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Global Water

A 300,000-gallon meter-reading error led to a $1,900 water bill for a Senita couple. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Water bills in Maricopa can cause powerful reactions, but the August bill for a Senita couple actually brought on an asthma attack.

Walter Mrozowski and Corrine Tabarez were charged $1,930.39.

Mrozowski called it “a shocker.” It literally took Tabarez’s breath away.

Their previous bill was $132.70.

“We have no intention of paying it,” Mrozowski said. “The water and sewage fees in Maricopa are abysmal, but the thing that really gets me the most is that whatever program they use did not red-flag that.”

The bill indicated the couple used 305,022 gallons in one month. That is six times the size of an average residential swimming pool.

Mrozowski and Tabarez have not installed a swimming pool, nor have they planted an orchard.

Their meter reading at the end of July was 1,038,119. The meter reading shown on the bill for Sept. 1 was 1,343,141. The actual number on the meter on Sept. 21 was 1,048,860.

Walter Mrozowski’s water meter reads nearly 300,000 gallons less than was reported on their September bill. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Walter Mrozowski’s water meter reads nearly 300,000 gallons less than was reported on their September bill. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The 300,000-gallon over-read is an anomaly, as far as Global Water General Manger Jon Corwin is concerned.

“The most common meter-related issue we see is the measuring chamber stops spinning or spins slowly, recording lower consumption than is actually passing through the meter,” he said. “Meters almost exclusively fail by under-registering water, meaning customers are charged for less water than they actually use.”

Because their bill arrived on a weekend, the couple did not know how to reach anyone at Global Water. The stress brought on her asthma. Tabarez reached a staff member the following Monday, Sept. 14.

“She said they would not charge me to send someone out to read the meter since they were not getting daily readings from the meter,” Tabarez said.

Corwin said Global Water will “typically respond to a customer field investigation within three to five business days if not sooner.”

At 2:30 p.m. Sept. 18, Tabarez received a call from a Client Services representative, who apologized and told her they would be getting a new bill.

Tabarez said she was told Global Water sent a technician to read the meter because the transmitter was broken. When Tabarez said it did not appear anyone had read the meter in a while because it was caked with mud, she was told that happens after a rain.

But Mrozowski said modern technology should have prevented such an error and at least have indicated a problem with the meter.

“If it’s not being transmitted, how do I know my usage of 12,000 gallons shouldn’t have been 6,000?” he asked. “I have no way of knowing if it’s accurate.”

According to Corwin, the basic function of a meter is:

1.    Water passes through a measuring chamber within the meter
2.    The chamber spins an attached magnet, which translates into a reading on the meter register dials
3.    The end point transmits the meter read to Global Water

“In Maricopa, each meter has what is called an end point, which is a device that transmits the meter read to Global Water and eliminates the need for a technician to go out and manually obtain a meter reading,” Corwin said. “On occasion the end point can fail, which does not affect the meter read, but does require a technician to obtain a manual read.”

Customers who get an anomalous reading can call Global Water and have a technician sent out for a physical re-read, Corwin said.

“We see a lot of instances where high consumption is driven by a leak in the irrigation system, a water softener that gets stuck backwashing or toilets that continuously run,” he said.

A mis-read, rather than a leak, is the suspect in the Mrozowski case.

“If the original meter read was inaccurate, we correct the bill,” Corwin said. “If the original read is accurate, the customer is subject to a $30 fee which the Arizona Corporation Commission approved to cover the labor, fuel and vehicle wear and tear to obtain the additional read.”

Mrozowski and Tabarez question the accuracy of any readings. Tabarez said she was told in her Sept. 18 conversation with Global Water “many of the meters” in Maricopa are broken and the company is replacing them. “Otherwise they have been making estimates for water usage and coming out and reading the meter every few months.”

Corwin said the claim that many meters are broken is inaccurate. And Global Water tries to keep estimates at a minimum.

“We prefer to never estimate a read but on rare occasion we have to estimate a meter reading because the read was not transmitted and we are not able to make the repairs prior to the next read date,” he said.  “Some examples we’ve seen in the past where estimated reads were required include vehicles parked on the meter box, plant overgrowth, heavy objects placed on the meter box, etc.  If we have to estimate a read, which is allowed per regulations, we follow a very prescriptive process.”

Mrozowski said Global Water should proactively red-flag dramatic changes in usage like that indicated on his bill. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Mrozowski said Global Water should proactively red-flag dramatic changes in usage like that indicated on his bill. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Mrozowski called the experience a wake-up call. He said he wonders how many other Maricopans are affected without knowing their meter readings could be inaccurate. He would also like the company to be more proactive in detecting serious anomalies, like 300,000 gallons of water.

“What’s really amazing is that in the year 2015 with the level of computer technology, Global Water’s computer programs could not flag such an obvious blip for human intervention,” he said. “Just send out the bill and make the customer’s weekend really enjoyable.”

Biz---water-bill-4

Public Works Director Bill Fay has been looking for ways to bring the stalled Edison Road extension into budget. The extension will be the access to the planned Estrella Gin Business Park. Photo by Adam Wolfe

By Adam Wolfe
@Adam_Wolfe

The project to extend Edison Road from Firehouse 575 to State Route 238 is still moving forward, but at half the size.

“We designed what we wanted, and the scope came back at $6.5 million,” Public Works Director Bill Fay said. “The program was created a long time ago without much of a scope, and was estimated for $3 million. We also thought Global Water would be helping with the costs, but that’s not the case.”

The original plan was for Edison Road to feature four lanes accessing the future Estrella Gin Business Park while providing an alternative connection between SR 238 and SR 347. The initial $3 million estimate was set by a program, and Fay said current officials are unsure where the number originated.

However, due to a the change in cost estimates and stalled negotiations among the city, Global Water and neighboring landowners, the project will move forward as a two-lane road.

“We always intended for Edison to reach the 238,” Fay said. “The issue is whether or not the utility lines will reach that far.”

If the city moved forward with its plan to build a four-lane road, there is a high likelihood it would have to tear up the road later to insert the utility lines, he said.

According to Mayor Christian Price, the construction companies aren’t the only issue when it comes to negotiations. Both Global Water and landowners will have a say in the project details as well.

“The city only controls one-third of the project,” Price said. “Ongoing negotiations between us, Global Water and private landowners will help shape the cost estimate. Some assumptions were made when the project started, but in a five- to 10-year projection, you work through stages of development.”

Jason Thuneman, director of the project management office for Global Water, said the city is responsible for constructing on-site water and wastewater utility lines. Lines under a four-lane road to SR 238 would have to extend the full length of the roadway, he said.

“ If the City decides to proceed with only a two-lane roadway at this time, water and wastewater line extensions can be completed in the future at the same time the additional lanes are installed since the infrastructure under this roadway is not necessary until the property north of Estrella Gin is ready to develop and requires service,” Thuneman said.

The city bought the Estrella Gin property for $3.2 million in 2011 and paid almost $48,000 for a feasibility study for a business park. The new fire station is already on the property, a Public Works building is being constructed, and the Amtrak station will be moved to the site.

“Global’s role with respect to Estrella Gin was to extend  water and wastewater to the property line, which was completed in 2011, prior to construction of the Estrella Gin Fire Station,” Thuneman said.

Last year, the city received a $250,000 Rural Economic Development Grant from the Arizona Commerce Authority to help extend Edison and access future businesses and facilities. There are 40 acres available for business development.

The change in the extension for Edison Road creates potential problems for the development of business in the area. The Estrella Gin Business Park has already seen significant delays.

“We originally wanted to purchase our own land and build, but we had meetings with [members of the city government] and the development company regarding space in Estrella Gin,” Shipfr8 Chief Operating Officer Peter Cockle said. “They told us they would break ground and even provided opening dates. Those dates have since come and gone.”

Cockle, who has lived in Maricopa for the last seven years, was expecting to be in his new business location by January 2014. His hope is to provide jobs to Maricopa residents and boost the local economy, but his inability to get into a permanent location is making that goal hard to achieve. The delays have forced Cockle to consider moving his business to accommodating cities.

“Realistically for a business to develop, it has to be outside of Maricopa,” Cockle said. “There just isn’t business space readily available. Mayor Price has been a tremendous supporter for us, but what happens when he leaves office? Businesses that want to develop in Maricopa may have to look to cities such as Casa Grande and Gilbert that have the space already created.”

Cockle feels developing businesses are unable to make proper plans in Maricopa due to lack of adequate business-ready space. Maricopa has plenty of space for potential development, but few business parks are “move-in ready.” Projects such as the Edison Road extension will help address the issue, but the project’s unknown completion date doesn’t address the immediate need, he said.

The city’s need is access to the property.

Until utility lines reach SR 238, it is fiscally irresponsible to build four lanes in case they need to be torn up to place the lines, Price said.

“[Edison] Road will connect to the 238, but we want to make sure we do it right,” Price said. “If [Edison] is going to be developed, utilities have to be put in. I’d rather do it right the first time. We don’t want to build the road just to tear it back up later.”

Electrical District No. 3 is prepping a 12,000-volt line extension on Edison Road to SR 238. ED3 Director of Engineering and Operations Larry Yates said a preliminary design has been submitted to the city for review.

ED3 completed the new service extension to the fire station and has a construction agreement for the Public Works building. The utility is also working on a power line conflict review for the relocation of the Amtrak station to the Estrella Gin site.

“One advantage the city has that should have a positive marketing impact for the Estrella Business Park  is there are 12,000-volt three-phase primary lines installed around the perimeter of the property, with the power line extension that is being designed for the Edison Road Project, which should add significant value to the property as it could lower the cost for electric service,” Yates said.

ED3 itself owns a small parcel of land adjoining the south side of the business park. Yates said with the final design unknown, “it is difficult to determine if that property will have any positive or negative impact for ED3.”

Last year, the city received a $250,000 Rural Economic Development Grant from the Arizona Commerce Authority to help extend Edison and access future businesses and facilities. There are 40 acres available for business development, but that development has stalled with the road extension.

Despite the monetary setback, Fay is confident the extension will be completed. For that to happen, the project design had to change.

“With construction companies, you can either tell them what you want and they can tell you what it costs, or you can tell them what you can spend and they’ll tell you what you can get,” Fay said. “We are going to have a through-road from the firehouse to Highway 238, but we don’t know if the needed utility lines will reach that far.”

The project is moving forward but starting small.

“Four lanes would be ideal, but that may not happen right away,” City Manager Gregory Rose said. “We believe it will be two lanes (as a start). This allows us to add the utility lines and two extra lanes later.”

By cutting two lanes off the initial design, the city is able to save money on the project as well, though the cost may still be higher than original estimates.

According to Rose, the only project the city is planning to allocate funds from to help pay for the road is a “right-of-way improvement bill” for City Hall.

“The [right-of-way] project was a low priority,” Fay said. “It may not have happened for a few years anyway, so allocating the money should not have any effect.”

The extra money should allow the city to move forward with the Edison project. Negotiations will continue with Global Water and landowners to make the four-lane expansion happen, but even if the “ideal” expansion is delayed, the city intends to complete it.

“We don’t necessarily have a backup plan for the project,” Price said. “It’s all about prioritizing the priorities. We’ll make adjustments at each stage of the design, but we are going to build all the way to the 238.”

It’s unclear at this time where the city will find more budget cuts if needed for the project. However, Fay and his team will be looking into all of their options at each stage of the design.

“We are making adjustments everywhere we can,” Fay said. “We have a history of finishing projects on time and under budget. It’s not completely clear, but we’ll find out how much it’ll cost and how much (funding) we have.”

The Edison Road extension was initially planned as a four-lane road, but new plans will build it as two lanes until utilities go in.  Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
The Edison Road extension was initially planned as a four-lane road, but new plans will build it as two lanes until utilities go in. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
A fire station is at the end of Edison Road, and a Public Works is under construction on its west side. Estrella Gin Business Park is to go in on the north side. Photo by Michael Barnes
A fire station is at the end of Edison Road, and a Public Works is under construction on its west side. Estrella Gin Business Park is to go in on the north side. Photo by Michael Barnes