The city is overcharging some residents for sewer services, City Council member Charity Doyle charged Wednesday.
At the Legal & Finance meeting, she said the city's system of averaging a property owner's first three months of water usage to determine sewer rates for an entire year can inflate those bills, especially for snowbirds who are gone in January, February and March.
The city's current billing practice calls for residents who do not use any water in the first three months of the year to be charged what is referred to as a default 7-unit rate, which is among the highest rates the city charges for residential sewer services.
Doyle said that rate nearly doubles what her family of four uses, which is the 4-unit rate.
She said that in one case the city should be billing a resident $11 or $12 per month.
"Instead, she was being charged $31," Doyle said.
Residents who want to contest their rate can do so, but that requires looking at their three-year average of water usage, and it includes the summer months when water bills are typically the highest.
She said others are overcharged when they move to a new home. In many cases, they too are charged the 7-unit default rate.
"There's these groups of people that fall through the cracks and are unfairly assessed," Doyle said of the snowbirds and residents who relocate.
Public Works Director Terry Wolterstorf said after the meeting that the 7-unit default rate has been used for more than 20 years, but the city is considering reducing it to 5 units.
"We think it would be fair to come in and base that average on a more accurate number," he said.
Wolterstorf said the department is looking at a three-month water-use average that targets different months. Doyle said those periods would preferably be early spring or late fall.
Doyle, meanwhile, called for the city to create a system that recognizes past water-use history, so residents wouldn't have to pay a default rate when they move.
Wolterstorf said later the department couldn't readily determine how many residents are now paying the 7-unit default rate.
"It's not a number our system spits out easily," he said, adding the city has about 20,000 sewer ratepayers.
Wolterstorf did say, however, that he believes the current system is effective for most residents.
"Our ordinance works for most of our accounts," he said. "It's a select few that are really impacted by it. It would be nice to accommodate them, also."