Frustrated Rim Country residents trying to get answers to questions about a proposed doubling of their water rates spent this week’s Corporation Commission hearing mostly drilling dry wells.
Payson Water Company officials and Arizona Corporation Commission staff mostly deflected sometimes bitterly pointed questions at the Feb. 4 and 5 hearings in Phoenix. The commission staff will hold another meeting today, Feb. 7.
Many residents tried in vain to extract a promise that Payson Water Company will upgrade the system it bought from Brooke Utilities with the money that flows in after rates double. The company also wants approval to impose potentially expensive water hauling charges on East Verde Estates in the event of water shortages in the future.
When East Verde Park resident Tom Bremer asked what the company had done to boost production, owner Jason Williamson only said he was looking into solutions.
“We are researching and evaluating the best way to expand capacity,” said Williamson. “We are going to be ordered to fix production by this Commission after the hearing. We have already started the process of asking (the federal) Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) for grant funds. I don’t know ... what the best way is to improve the situation out there, but we will find out.”
Williamson offered no guarantee he will improve the system if granted the rate increase. However, his accountant, Thomas Bourassa, said the new rates will at least make the company solvent.
Payson Water Company lawyer Jay Shapiro said the company and the ACC staff had narrowed their differences and were close to an agreement.
However, he said customers who intervened in the case were causing the hearing to go on longer than it would have.
“We would ask this Commission to grant reasonable and prudent approval of rates,” he said, noting that the company hasn’t had a rate hike since 2000.
Each of the eight communities affected by the rate hike has its own concerns.
Whispering Pines, near the headwaters of the East Verde River, argued it has enough water and shouldn’t have to pay to solve problems in other communities.
Mead Ranch wonders why no plans for improving the system are included in this significant rate hike.
Mesa del customers believe drilling a well would end their water shortages more cheaply than hooking up to the C.C. Cragin pipeline.
Gisela and Deer Creek residents say they also have enough water and don’t want to foot the bill for increasing capacity elsewhere.
East Verde Park residents asked why the company doesn’t drill another well instead of seeking to impose water hauling fees that could dramatically increase bills in the summer.
In his testimony before the ACC administrative judge Dwight Nodes, Bourassa said in all of the years he has testified at rate hearings, he has never experienced such a contentious and complicated hearing.
The Corporation Commission board will not make a decision on the proposed rate increase for some time, as the commission staff and the water company continue to analyze the company’s costs and water needs.