Tom Bremer, a Payson Water Company customer, wonders why he bothered sending comments to the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) about recent water rate increases.
“In particular, there are a lot of customer comments that don’t seem to get much attention at the ACC who in theory should be representing the public,” he said.
The East Verde Park resident has closely watched the Payson Water Company (PWC) ACC rate hearings over the years. He lodged a complaint in this most recent rate case, but went so far as to intervene in a 2014 case.
Holly Ward, a spokesperson with the ACC, explained the process for customer comments.
“While public comments are not made under oath, the hearing process works to get testimony on the record,” she said. “Public comment can be substantiated if a judge or party to the case ask questions of those under oath.”
This dismayed Bremer.
“I don’t consider that merely getting the customer’s comments on the record equates to any serious consideration being given to customer comments and concerns,” he said. “And it is ludicrous to assert that customer comments require examination under oath to be substantiated.”
He used an example from the current rate case.
“In my public comment I made the point that PWC’s claim that the rate increase will raise the average residential water bill by only $15.83 per month severely understates the impact of the increase,” he said. “In reality, a family of four with typical water usage per the U.S. Geological Survey, will see their monthly water bill increase by $42.27 to $61.50, about three times PWC’s figure.”
He said it is “ridiculous” that because his public comments were not made under oath, the ACC would say his calculations are unsubstantiated and therefore merit no consideration in the rate-making process.
Bremer said he had reservations about attending an April public meeting about the rate increases.
“... at the hearing on Feb. 11, ACC staff tells the administrative law judge that this is already an agreement between PWC and ACC staff on the rate increase. Again, I have to ask, what is the point of a public hearing if the rate increase is already decided?”
Bremer read the ACC’s administrative law judge’s recommendation to the commissioners in early April. These judges send recommendations after holding a hearing. The commissioners then vote to approve or deny the new rates.
“No surprise the judge agrees with ACC staff, who agreed with PWC that PWC’s revenue should increase by 52.06 percent,” he said. “Notably missing from the judge’s recommendation is mention or acknowledgment of the customer concerns ... I guess the PWC rate increases will just quietly go into effect as if nobody will notice — until they get their new water bill.”