Businessman says city of Mesa bill excessive

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By Jim Carr By Jim Carr

MESA, Ariz. -- Ron Martin owns a successful business and it's one you probably never even knew existed.

"We install sign posts for Realtors, agents and brokerages all over the Valley," Martin said.

That’s right, all of those Realtor signs have to be installed somehow and Martin's company called Quick Post Systems is the company that digs the hole and installs the real estate sign. When it comes to all that digging, Martin says his employees are as careful as they can be.

"Obviously, you're looking for any kind of lines, you know.  Water lines, copper lines, PVC lines, cable lines and normally we can miss those," Martin explained.

Unfortunately, one of his employees hit a 1-inch water pipe located on a city of Mesa easement and caused a small water leak. It was so small that the leak went unnoticed until someone reported it to city officials, who sent out city workers to fix the leak.

"All of a sudden, we just got an invoice from the city of Mesa saying you've hit a city line, we've repaired it and here's your bill for a $1,000," Martin told 3 On Your Side.

Martin said the bill is excessive, saying he's repaired busted pipes on private property before for $300 and believes it shouldn't have taken five city employees 19 and a half man-hours to fix a 1-inch water pipe as listed in the bill.

"This is a great example of government waste," Martin said, "We're on the other side of it because we're having to pay the bill to have five guys supposedly fix a line."

However, the city of Mesa justifies the bill to 3 On Your Side saying, "Excavation itself often requires more than one employee." As well as a "multi-member crew is often necessary to ensure compliance" with the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The city also claims the water leak could have been prevented if Martin or his company would have called for a Blue Stake marking, which clearly indicates areas to avoid underground with bright spray paint. Still, Martin believes the bill is way too high.

"It's the old adage, 'How many city workers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?' It takes five to fix a water line. Four to watch and one to work," Martin said.

The city claims it was a pretty bad leak with a lot of water and mud and the original bill is correct. However, after my involvement, Mesa is considering lowering the bill. They have a meeting set with Martin and after that meeting they may lower the amount. I’ll let you know in a follow-up report.

City of Mesa's response:

Dear 3 On Your Side,

The City of Mesa very much appreciates your bringing this matter to our attention, as it raises very serious safety concerns. We would be grateful if you could help educate the public about these safety concerns in the event that you elect to cover the story.

First and most importantly, the City understands that Quik-Post Systems, the complaining party in this matter, is apparently in the business of driving stakes into the ground and then affixing realty signs to the stakes. This has the potential to be a very dangerous practice, as many utilities, including water, wastewater, gas, electric, and telecommunications may be located underground and within rights of way and public utility easements, the boundaries of which may not be evident to a lay person. In fact, Arizona Revised Statutes (40-360.22.A) requires that a person must first determine if underground facilities will be encountered prior to any excavation in the Right-of-Way. An excavation is defined as any operation in which earth is moved, whether by tool, equipment, or, as in this case, by driving a large stake into the ground. The determination of the location of underground facilities is done by Arizona Blue Stake, through a program more commonly known as "Call Before You Dig." This service is available to anyone in the state, including businesses, and is easily scheduled ahead of time by telephone or Internet. We are concerned that it appears that this business may not have ordered a blue-stake as required. To underscore the importance of "Call Before You Dig," please understand that an accidental hit of a gas service line can cause an explosion and fire which could lead to loss of life and property.

The City of Mesa is also very concerned that the complaining party suggests that it "normally always" repairs leaks resulting from underground utility strikes itself. We sincerely hope this is not the case, and will be contacting Quik-Post Systems ourselves to ensure they do not perform any work on the City of Mesa utility system in the future. It is the responsibility of the City of Mesa’s Water Resources Department to protect the water distribution system (and the public health and safety) from contamination in compliance with various laws and statutes, including but not limited to the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act. To this end we require, as does state law, that anyone who works on or repairs the distribution system have and maintain the proper certifications through the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Important procedures and policies are followed while responding to and repairing line breaks to ensure that there is no contamination of the public water system. The City does not allow third-parties to work on or repair our distribution system other than with the express consent of the City through the proper permitting. We would suggest that that the misimpressions of Quik-Post, in terms of the difficulty and expense associated with proper repair of a potable distribution system, is that it is not familiar with the various regulatory requirements with which the City must comply and which are necessary to perform the work properly and safely.

The City of Mesa has substantial experience in the operation of its water distribution system, with competitive rates and safe reliable service. In order to provide such service, the City has developed various best practices in the operation and maintenance of its system. In the event there is a water leak that is confirmed in the distribution system, a three-man crew is regularly called out. This is, in part, because experience has demonstrated that the extent of damage cannot be ascertained merely by looking around at the scene. Rather, the pipes must first be excavated (after ordering and waiting for an emergency Blue-Stake). Excavation itself often requires more than one employee, especially in our hard, desert ground. After the pipes have been exposed and the leak has been found, it can be the case that a leak or damage that does not appear significant can be or result in a major issue on a very large line. Additionally, repairs of even small leaks can disrupt service to other customers, and may create other hazards such as a loss of pressure to fire hydrants. Finally, a multi member crew is often necessary to ensure compliance with other applicable laws and requirements such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Maintenance of a municipal utility system frequently requires significant excavation, the entry of confined spaces, and the handling and use of pressurized gasses and liquids, all of which have significant safety related requirements. In short, the use of the three man crew is the most efficient practice for the City and its customers.

An additional factor in this case is that the crew was called out to the repair after normal business hours. After waiting for the emergency Blue-Stake, undertaking the excavation, and determining the extent of damage, they made a temporary repair. Crews that are working after-hours are instructed to minimize time in the field and make only necessary repairs to ensure safety while minimizing overtime pay. The crew returned the next day to finish repairs during normal work hours. Additional excavation was necessary, and a two-foot section of copper pipe was replaced. The excavation was then filled and the crew cleaned the area up and made reasonable efforts to restore the landscaping.

We truly regret that Quik-Post feels that the City did not adequately explain the labor and material cost involved in making a proper and safe repair to the City’s water distribution system. Much more is involved in these repairs than may be commonly understood, and even then may be applicable to a plumber or other professional that is working on an issue on the customer’s water lines. Because any work on a water distribution system can impact public health, proper procedures and certifications are necessary and required. Ultimately, the City believes that Quik-Post could have avoided the charges had they followed the proper procedures in the first instance by "calling before you dig."

We hope that you can help educate the public on the importance of the Arizona Blue Stake "Call Before You Dig" program. We also hope that you can help educate the public regarding repairs to the City’s water distribution system. Neither businesses nor the public should ever attempt to repair or tamper with the City’s water distribution system without obtaining the appropriate permits and permissions from the City. These repairs, if undertaken in an inappropriate manner can contaminate the public water system and endanger public health.