Customers continue to express water surcharge outrage
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Changes may be coming for frustrated water customers. They've been emailing and calling Action News, angry about a new fee adding hundreds to their bills. Valley business owners say they've been hit especially hard.
"You're going to see mom and pop stores closing down because they can't afford it," says Larry Britz.
He says this infrastructure surcharge is too much. It's a new fee from the Southern Nevada Water Authority. It helps pay for projects that take water from Lake Mead and bring it into the valley. But Britz argues it's bad for business.
"You want more vacancies, more unemployment? Keep the rate up," says Britz.
He owns these industrial buildings near the I15 and Lake Mead. The North Las Vegas property has five meters. And the new surcharge adds about $350 to his water bill every month. As the landlord, Britz could pass that increase on to the small businesses that rent space. But he says he won't do that.
"They can't afford it. I have tenants right now, they can't take an increase," says Larry.
He says in this economy, he's already struggling to keep the business he's got.
"I've lowered the rent in these buildings 40-50% to get them occupied. And now you want to hit me with another water charge," says Britz.
He says he's especially frustrated because the surcharge is based on the size of a meter rather than how much water a customer uses. The bigger the meter, the bigger the fee. Larry's smallest meter is a three-quarter inch meter. He's got three of those, and each one comes with a $19 charge. Then there's a $36 fee for his one inch meter.
Then there's the biggest one of all -- the six inch meter -- for $252.
And get this, not a drop of water passes through the biggest meter. His six-inch line is hooked up to this building's fire sprinkler system. He's paying a $250 monthly fee for a meter that's only here for emergencies. The sprinklers were installed just last year, after a devastating fire destroyed one of Britz buildings.
"I had to rebuild it and the code says you have to put a fire system in. That system ran $80,000," says Britz.
Despite the huge price tag, Britz says after the fire he was looking to install sprinklers in his other buildings. But now he says, because of the surcharge, he's not willing to make that investment.
"The insurance will take care of it," says Larry.
Four new sprinkler systems would mean installing new six-inch meters at each building. And Britz says he's not willing to pay the additional $1,000 in surcharges every month.
"Why not make it fair and make it $10 a month across the board," says Larry.
So I went to the water authority for answers.
"A lot of people are unhappy with the water surcharge. They're getting sticker shock," says Tricia. "We've heard the same complaints here as well," says Scott Huntley with the Water Authority.
He tells Contact 13 that they've received more than 100 complaints. That's why the water authority's board of directors plans to look into the surcharge issue at their next meeting.
"A lot of organizations are having trouble meeting all the bills that they face. This being one of them. And I think the board has been very sensitive to that and has decided to revisit this," says Huntley.
He can't say what action might be taken, but says the board does want to alleviate the situation.
"They're having staff right now look into alternatives or options," says Scott.
Just last month, angry water customers blasted the Las Vegas Valley Water District's Board of Directors about the surcharge.
"We've already had to cut one new position simply because of this charge," says Leslie Dunn. "I feel as though we're being raped," says Mary Jo Aldeman.
Scott says the Water Authority realizes customers are upset and just want answers.
"You assure us, this is not falling on deaf ears," asks Tricia. "This is definitely not falling on deaf ears. Not at all," says Scott.
The water authority's board meeting is Thursday, July 19, and this issue is on the agenda. Be there if you want to see this surcharge go away. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. on the 7th floor of Molasky Corporate Center. Our cameras will be there, and we'll be sure to let you know what happens.
And if you're not getting answers about your water bill, let us know. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.