Car wash owners get justice

Owners of two car washes in town should soon be happier about their city wastewater bills because of the city last Thursday introducing an ordinance to bill them differently than it does now.

Car washes are now billed just like residential users, which is based on water used during the months of December, January, February and March. The rationale is that those are not the heavy water-use months, since there is no lawn sprinkling.

But for car washes, the heaviest water-consumption months are the colder months, Larry Cross, owner of the coin operated car wash at the corner of Rum River Drive and Sixth Street South, explained to the Princeton City Council on May 24.

Cross said that because of the present formula and the recent sewer rate hike, he was anticipating that he would be paying $4,000 more this year and that he didn’t think the formula was fair nor could the business afford that much expense. Cross asked the council to approve a different formula where his car wash would be billed for sewer on the basis of water consumed during each month.

Just prior to the story coming out in the Union-Eagle, the owners of the car wash at Hofman Oil on the city’s west side contacted the city with the same request. The actual letter was from Cheryle Hofman, who has the Hofman Oil business with husband Tony.

Cheryle Hofman explained how the average water use at her car wash in January-April was 52,000 gallons per month compared to the average of 34,000 gallons monthly in the other months. She calculated that Hofman Oil would be paying $2,000 more this year for sewer use if nothing is changed and asked for a billing based on actual water use per each sewer billing month.

The council last August had approved a sewer rate increase that would go from $3.90 per 1,000 gallons of water used per month to $10.50 for the same. The rate hike was in a two phases, the first partial jump was last Oct. 1 when it went to $7.20 and then this past April 1 when it hit $10.50.

City staff members following the complaints from Cross and Hofman, worked with the Princeton Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to see if changes could be made in how the two car washes are billed for city sewer. City Administrator Mark Karnowski told the council last Thursday that it was found that changing the billing for them wouldn’t be difficult through computer programing.

PUC manager Dave Thompson had cautioned that if there would be costs involved in a solution those costs would have to be passed onto the customers involved.

Karnowski added at the council meeting Thursday that city staff members also found “some other shortcomings” in incorporating the billing language into the sewer rate fee schedule. It had to do with the recodifying of city ordinances eight years ago, he explained. The information about billing based on water use during the four months of December-March had not been put in, nor had anything been included about a minimum water usage charge, he said.

The city’s introduction of the proposed ordinance means there is likely a chance the council will pass the ordinance soon. The ordinance, as it is proposed, will keep the same sewer billing formula for residential use, but will change the formula for commercial car washes. In that case it will be based on water used in each sewer-billing month.

The proposed ordinance also states that the minimum monthly water usage at each residence shall be 2,000 gallons and that will be multiplied times the sewer rate. The ordinance establishes the minimum monthly usage for commercial properties at 4,000 gallons and that is multiplied against the rate.