Public Comment Sought On Water Rate Increase

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Pine Water Company customers and other interested parties will have two opportunities to voice their views on the company's proposed rate increase to the Arizona Corporation Commission in December.

The first is a public comment session at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 8 in the Pine Elementary School gymnasium. Then at 10 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 15, the commission will hold an additional public comment session in the main hearing room on the first floor of its offices at 1200 W. Washington Street in Phoenix.

"We realize that many Pine Water customers maintain a full-time residence here in the Phoenix metro area, so the Dec. 15 public comment session might be quite convenient for Phoenix-area customers," Heather Murphy, ACC public information officer, said.

Those unable to attend can submit written comments to Arizona Corporation Commission, Docket Control Center, 1200 W. Washington, Phoenix, AZ 85007. Be sure to include the docket number (W-03512A-03-0279) on all correspondence.

Comments can also be made through the commission's "Can We Help You" page on the Utilities Division website (www.cc.state.az.us/utility/cons/index.htm)

The two public comment sessions will be followed by an evidentiary hearing scheduled for Jan. 15 in Phoenix. Companies, organizations and individuals who have formally intervened will be able to question the company and argue their positions at that time.

Pine Water Company, which is owned by Brooke Utilities, filed the rate increase request on May 1. It includes a 49-percent summer rate increase of $13.42 for a customer using the summer average of 2,731 gallons per month. On top of that, all Pine Water customers would be charged a $10 a month water exploration surcharge and would continue to pay the cost of hauling supplemental water.

In testimony included in the request, Robert Hardcastle, of Pine Water, painted a bleak picture of a community that will most likely always have water shortages.

"There have been numerous calls by, among others, Gila County, developers, customers, and to some extent this commission, for massive capital investment by Brooke Utilities ...," Hardcastle said. "But our customers cannot drink or bathe in money, and to a large extent the lack of water is a hydrological reality no amount of capital investment can eradicate."

The bottom line, Hardcastle told the commission, is that the current rates -- in effect since April 1, 2000 -- are no longer adequate to provide the company a fair rate of return. In fact, Pine Water Company experienced operating losses in each of the last three years.

If granted in its entirety, the proposed increase would generate an additional $268,993 in revenues and a rate of return of 10.93 percent.

The proposal also includes a water supply augmentation plan and an education program for the company's 2,000 customers.

The plan includes increased water storage, a progressive rate design that puts more of the cost burden on heavy users, exploration for water on public lands, and possible legislative changes that would protect Pine's scarce water resources.

The ACC has 270 days to issue a final order and dispose of the case.

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