El Mirage Council Proposing to Jack Up Tax Rates, Water, Sewer, and Garbage Rates Again; Protest Planned at City Easter Event

El Mirage officials are hosting an Easter Eggstravaganza -- "the greatest Easter event El Mirage has ever seen" -- on March 30 at Bill Gentry Park, 14010 N. El Mirage Road.

As children get their photos taken with the Easter Bunny, color eggs, pet ponies, and romp around in a bouncy house, El Mirage residents upset about yet another proposed rate increase for their water, sewer, garbage, and property taxes plan to march in protest.

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Linda Kleiner, an El Mirage resident, posted a comment about the pending protest on the City of El Mirage's Facebook page, right under the Easter event announcement.

City officials apparently yanked it from their page, but we managed to grab a screen shot before it went down. (Posted on the right)

"The mayor and city manager want to do another rate increase in our water. They also voted to explore another increase in our taxes. They plan to have a public hearing on these increases on May 7," Kleiner wrote.

Kleiner explained in her post that protesters "do not intend to ruin the Easter Egg Hunt" but needed to choose an event where many residents were gathered to inform them about the proposed rate hikes.

El Mirage Mayor Lana Mook, responding to a request for comment about the proposed increases, tells New Times that "whatever you may have been told is premature."

"The public notice is not a rate increase," she writes in her e-mail.

Right, it's a notice about a proposed increase.

Mook continues: "Our council needs to support staff as they work to keep the rates low. It is the city's goal and hope there will be no increase in water fees this year, and I am hopeful this will be the case."

No doubt residents -- who have seen rate increase year after year since at least 2004 -- also are hopeful that they won't have to keep shelling out more money for essential city services.

Not that residents would necessarily know about the potential increases the city council is considering since there are only vague references to them on the city council agenda and on the city's website.  

If they are having a public hearing on May 7 regarding the proposed increases, there's no reference to it on the city's website. It's not like it's too soon to get the word out. (They already are announcing changes to garbage and recycling pickups that don't start until May 6.)

Consider, also, that on the March 5 city council agenda, they only vaguely mention they're considering adopting "a notice of intent to increase or change certain fees."

And, there is this even more obscure statement on their website: "In accordance with A.R.S. 9-499.15, public notice is hereby given that the El Mirage City Council may consider approving the following new taxes/fees and/or tax/fee increases on May 21, 2013, but no sooner than 60 days after the posting date of this notice."

And, as for the property tax increase, it appears city officials can legally raise the overall levy by 2.9 percent, or $1,828,998. The gobbledygook posted about the potential tax hike on a "levy limit worksheet" doesn't explain what it might mean for the average resident or business owner.

Certain fees? Increase or change? Levy worksheets?

That type of language may fulfill their legal Open Meeting Law obligations, but it certainly doesn't fulfill their responsibility to keep informed the residents who elected them.

El Mirage has bumped water, sewer, and garbage fees about 10 percent each year for the past three years. The city operates its own water system, and also provides service to the older sections of neighboring Surprise. Like most cities, they charge a flat rate for water service and charge an additional fee for each 1,000 gallons of actual water used.

Back in 2004, El Mirage charged a base fee of $14.85 for water, and that price included residents' use of up to 5,000 gallons of water. A typical bill for residents who used 10,000 gallons of water a month was about $21.20.

Today, that base rate is $17.97, and it doesn't include any water. Those same 10,000 gallons of water are going to cost about $51.87.

Now, officials are looking at another 10 percent increase, bumping that monthly fee to $19.77. The 10 percent fee applies across the board for water usage. If the city council approves the proposed increases, the tab for 10,000 gallons of water would be about $57.07.

The proposed base fee for sewer is $6.33, up from $5.75. Garbage rates, now $12.25, are proposed to jump to $13.48.

View 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 rates and the 2013-2014 proposed rates starting on page 6.

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