A hearing meant to help decide the fate of future water rates was cut short Monday after a meager amount of residents voiced concerns during the public session.
The public comment meeting, which was scheduled for three hours, took about 15 minutes to wrap up after three affected residents voiced concerns over whether EPCOR Water Arizona Inc. should consolidate its districts and raise water rates in those areas.
The meeting was held by the Arizona Corporation Commission via telephone and was the second gathering requesting public comment about the future of EPCOR water districts.
The service area districts include: Agua Fria, Anthem, Chaparral, Havasu/Brooke, Mohave, North Mohave, Paradise Valley, Sun City, Sun City West, Tubac and Willow Valley.
A similar public meeting was held last month. The commission is expected to make a final decision on the matter in July or August.
Rebecca Stenholm, EPCOR spokeswoman, said the commission asked the utility to merge the districts as a way to help operate and maintain the aging water infrastructure in those areas.
Ms. Stenholm said some current rates are outdated with some rates more than 25 years old and a new rate hike would help replace old, worn out pipes.
A few years ago, EPCOR paid $3 million to fix a collapsed Sun City well that was built during Depression era, Ms. Stenholm said.
“Costs change over the years,” Ms. Stenholm said.
The commission is expected to sift through six different scenarios — from keeping the district the same to creating fewer districts by consolidation.
In the past, Ms. Stenholm said most Sun City and Sun City West residents have preferred to stand alone while most Anthem residents have wanted to consolidate districts.
In 2019, the commission ended up deadlocked on EPCOR’s water rate increase and district consolidation when Commissioner Sandra Kennedy abstained and the vote ended with a 2-2 tie, meaning nothing changed.
EPCOR officials then requested the interim rate increase.
At Monday’s meeting, Sun City resident Dolores Witherspoon said she isn’t in favor of any changes. She said changes would be “detrimental” to area residents.
“I object to this deal you are trying to do,” Ms. Witherspoon said. “A lot of residents in Sun City are not well off.”
Plenty of residents filed online comments for and against consolidation.
In the Sun Cities, representatives from both the Sun City Home Owners Association and the Property Owners and Residents Association have filed as interveners in the rate case. Both groups are opposed to consolidation.
On March 17, Clyde Halstead, attorney for Anthem Community Council, filed a statement in support of consolidation and “benefits to be gained” by Anthem water users. Anthem residents would pay less under most of the six proposed consolidation plans.
Anthem resident Paul Raczkowski filed a statement in January.
“(Commissioners should) make a decision in this whole rate case based on both EPCOR and the majority of the EPCOR ratepayers want: full consolidation of EPCOR Water Arizona with regards to setting the water and sewer rates for the districts involved,” Mr. Raczkowski said.
Another online comment was filed from Joyce Ingram of Sun City. Ms. Ingram said she is against consolidation.
“Today, the residents are at the greatest risk for the pandemic, have the lowest income, and are those least informed of the water rate increase,” Ms. Ingram said. “EPCOR set up Zoom meetings to inform the public. That is fine for many other communities, but
Sun City has a majority of residents that are not computer literate. There are proposed rate increases for Sun City that would raise water rates up to 70% in our community.”
Ms. Stenholm said another meeting on the matter is scheduled for April 5. She said the updated rates will allow EPCOR to help each district equally.
“Every district will receive the same amount of focus and attention,” Stenholm said.