Payson Water Company (PWC) customers should pat water watchdog Tom Bremer on the back.
His efforts during a recent five-day rate hearing with the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) will result in water bills that will make more sense and keep the billings more transparent for customers of the private water company that serves Mesa del Caballo, Whispering Pines, East Verde Estates, Geronimo Estates, Flowing Springs, Deer Creek and other communities. Although named Payson Water Company, the company does not service Payson, but instead the small communities formerly served by Brooke Utilities.
The new owner of the company has asked to more than double base rates and to impose tougher penalties for people who use too much water during rationing periods and to charge some communities more when it has to haul in water from elsewhere.
The company says it needs the rate increase just to break even and hasn’t committed to any increase in capacity with the money from the increase.
During the grueling water rate hearing in front of ACC Administrative Judge Dwight Nodes, Bremer asked about both the fees the company will charge to punish those using too much water during the dry months and proposed water hauling fees.
Bremer’s questions about curtailment fees added to water bills to crack down on customers who use more water than allowed during water rationing periods above level 1, motivated the ACC staff to change its position.
Attacked curtailment charges
“At their opening statements on Tuesday, Feb. 4, PWC’s (Payson Water Company) attorney Jay Shapiro said that they essentially will accept the ACC staff recommendations in the staff filing of Jan. 24,” said Bremer in an e-mail, “And also that they will back away from the EVP (East Verde Park) curtailment plan as proposed in their Dec. 6 filing and revert to the existing curtailment plan that has been in effect for all PWC service areas (except Gisela) since 2005.”
Originally, PWC had suggested a curtailment plan that would have forced customers pay $200 to turn their water back on after violating Stage 3 conditions and $800 for a first-time violation of Stage 5 restrictions.
Bremer convinced the ACC he felt those numbers were excessive.
Bremer also criticized the way PWC proposed to calculate water use before shutting off the water.
“Because the curtailment season runs from May through September, the mathematics of PWC’s curtailment plan require the EVP customer to reduce water use month-over-month from the previous months,” wrote Bremer to the ACC in his filings, “so a family who typically uses 5,000 gallons a month during the non-curtailment season must reduce water use during the curtailment season, at Stage 3 for example, by 30 percent to 3,500 gallons in May, and then another 30 percent to 2,450 gallons in June, and so on through September, when the water use limit is down to only 840 gallons, or no more than 28 gallons a day, which doesn’t even support basic needs for hygiene and cooking.”
In her opening statement at the hearing, ACC attorney Robin Mitchell said the ACC staff suggested PWC remove the new curtailment plan and instead keep the plan in place since 2005.
Residents in all the areas served by PWC will now have more reasonable turn-on rates and less severe water restrictions.
Now the water hauling charges
Then Bremer attacked the water hauling charges.
Originally, PWC filed for water hauling charges that mimicked the fees Mesa del Caballo has paid for the last five years.
That disastrous fee structure resulted in customers’ bills doubling and tripling during the dry months.
Bremer’s questions prompted the ACC staff to recalculate the water hauling fees.
“Obviously staff needs to submit a revised water hauling and water surcharge rate for East Verde Park,” said Nodes to PWC lawyer Crystal Brown, “People have a right to know the revised rate structure so that Mr. Bremer can ask questions. We can all come back at the end of the week when staff has had a chance to revise the rates ... to discuss just this topic.”
By Friday, Brown had recalculated the water hauling charges.
In response Bremer filed his own set of water hauling charge recommendations that would require those using too much water to bear more of the hauling than those who stayed within the conservation limits.
The first round of hearings has ended. Nodes gave all parties until March 31 to file closing arguments.
The ACC will not decide on the rates until all arguments have been submitted.