Carwash owner: Recalculate my sewer fees

The coin-operated car wash owned by Larry Cross at the corner of Sixth Street South and Rum River Drive is pictured here last Friday morning.

Larry Cross figures he will be paying $4,000 more than he should in sewer bill fees this year at his coin-operated car wash in Princeton because of the way the city has set up the rate formula.

He is unhappy enough about it that he requested at last

Larry Cross, in front of one of the bays at his coin-operated car wash the day after he asked the council to change the system for how he is billed for sewer service at the business.

Thursday’s city council meeting that his monthly sewer bill rate be calculated according to the water the car wash consumes each month.

Right now the city uses a prorating system. It looks at the water usage in the month of December of the previous year and the first three months of the current year and assigns the average monthly water usage in those four months for all of the year’s months.

Cross reasoned that billing according to each month’s actual water use would be more fair, explaining that his highest water use is in those four months of December-March.

Cross’ request comes at a time that the second half of the city’s recent two-phase sewer service rate increase has kicked in. The council last Aug. 4 approved a monthly sewer rate increase that would go from $3.90 per 1,000 gallons of water used to $10.50 per 1,000 gallons per month. It was a two-step increase in which the first step was on Oct. 1 last year when the new rate went to $7.20 per 1,000 gallons per month. The second and final part of the rate increase kicked in on April 1 this year, jumping to $10.50 per 1,000 gallons used. It did not change the prorating system in which the monthly average water use for the four mentioned months sets the monthly rate.

The council did not act on Cross’ request during the open forum part of the council meeting last Thursday. Council member Dick Dobson pointed out that the council’s policy is to not take action on an open forum request at the same meeting. Mayor Jeremy Riddle did tell Cross that he and city staff members have already been looking into Cross’ matter with the Princeton Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and would continue to do so. The PUC does the billing for the city’s sewer service.

Cross had been to the PUC and city hall prior to the city council meeting with his complaint about the sewer billing system for his car wash and said on Friday that he didn’t get any promise of relief at either place.

Cross handed out copies to the council of his monthly car wash water usage from December 2009 through March this year. He estimated that he will be paying close to $4,069 more this year for the sewer service, than if he paid according to actual water used each month.

PUC Manager Dave Thompson explained after last Thursday’s council meeting that the decision was made to base the sewer rates on the months of December through March because most residents use less water then, compared to the summer months. People use more water in the warm months because of watering lawns and gardens and washing things outside, Thompson said.

But Cross’ situation may be different than that of the average resident and even many commercial businesses.

Cross explains that his highest water usage at his car wash is during the winter months. Based on his usage from December 2011 through March this year, his car wash consumed 355,000 gallons for the four months.

Many of his summer months last year had much less usage per month, than in the colder months, he noted. His car wash used 71,000 gallons last December and 103,000 in January this year, and 106,000 and 75,000 gallons the next two months, he said.

His monthly water usage at the car wash from April through November 2011 was 95,000, 43,000, 51,000, 36,000, 32,000, 43,000, 40,000 and 35,000 gallons respectively.

Cross told the council that based on his monthly water usage during April-November the past two years and his usage in December 2011 through March of this year, his car wash sewer bill will be close to $11,183. If the sewer charge was based on actual gallons used each month, he said, it should be $7,114, or close to $4,069 less.

Cross figures he “overpaid” by only $6 in 2010, and “overpaid” by $1,019 last year for the car wash sewer service.

It’s just a “mom and pop” small business that has been in Princeton since about 1971 and which he has owned for 12 years, he said last Friday, adding that the car wash expenses can’t exceed the revenue.

Mayor Riddle responded to Cross at the council meeting that it has to be determined if there can be a computer program change to address Cross’ situation, what that would cost and if the cost would exceed what could be saved.


PUC responds

PUC manager Thompson says that Cross’ request has already consumed 25-30 hours of PUC staff time and that none of that has benefited the PUC.

“I have empathy for these people,” Thompson said about their sewer rate hikes. But at the same time, if the PUC makes changes to the billing for Cross, any involved costs in making those changes will have to be charged to Cross, Thompson said. He explained that the PUC is prohibited by law from charging all of the PUC customers for something that would benefit one rate payer.

Thompson said he has not heard from anybody else in Princeton with car wash operations, noting that car washes are at the SuperAmerica, Coborn’s, Hofman Oil and Marathon gas stations. But “Larry’s is different,” Thompson added, explaining that his car wash has a water meter that only counts the water used at the car wash. The water meters at the other mentioned locations, also include the water used inside the stores to make one total for everything.

Cross may be right in his calculations but if his car wash is billed on a monthly basis and he incurs charges that the PUC has to pass on to him to make it possible, he might not realize much savings, or maybe none, Thompson said.

Cross is just one customer that the staff members at the PUC and city hall have had calls from about the sewer rate increase that kicked in completely on April 1 this year.