It’s going to take a couple of years, but EPCOR Water will move forward with a new rate case before the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) by the end of the month with the hopes that wastewater customers in Ft. Mohave will have their bills cut nearly in half by 2018.
“We have very high rates,” said Shawn Bradford, EPCOR Vice President of Corporate Services, during a special town hall meeting Monday night in Bullhead City. “We’re going to try to change that.”
Monday’s announcement is an about-face for EPCOR which won ACC approval last year for a steep, but staggered increase in residential sewer rates, which were implemented to offset multi-million dollars in capital improvements in Mohave County. Bradford blamed the ‘small rate base’ for the staggering increase, which will take monthly sewer bills to $78.53 in Sept. 2017. The capital improvements were completed shortly after EPCOR acquired the Mohave system from Arizona-American Water Company in 2012. The costs of those improvements were spread over the 1,500 wastewater customers they serve in Mohave County.
EPCOR is now looking to spread all of its costs over its entire system in Arizona—more than 60,000 customers. EPCOR operates wastewater systems in five different districts—most of which are located in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Bradford said, the impending rate case will include a proposal to consolidate the five districts into one and thus enlarging the rate base for all of the company’s costs. The end result would likely mean a substantial savings for customers along the Colorado River.
Bradford projected the consolidation, if approved by the ACC, could lower sewer rates in Fort Mohave to $38-$43 per month. It would be much closer to the monthly rate that residents in Bullhead City pay as part of the city’s wastewater system, which has been $31 for many years. The new rates would be the same for all 60,000 EPCOR customers in all districts.
While the monthly rate would be lowered in Mohave County, it would go up in two of the five districts, but Bradford said there are benefits even for those that will see an increase in their rates. EPCOR predicts consolidation would lower rates in the Mohave district, the Anthem district north of Phoenix and the Agua Fria district near Buckeye. Monthly rates would likely increase in the Sun City and Sun City West districts. Bradford expects the proposal to gain widespread support in the areas that will see a decrease in rates, but it’s already being criticized in Sun City, where rates would likely increase.
While the consolidation proposal has been widely panned in the Sun City area, Bradford said, residents in those areas will benefit, too. Because the infrastructure in those areas is very old, they are slated for a major overhaul. Some wastewater lines in Sun City were installed when Del Webb first developed the retirement community in the late 1950s and 60s. In Sun City West, they were installed in the early 1970s. Without consolidation, Bradford said, Sun City residents may see rates even higher than those in Fort Mohave.
“No matter how good you are, those pipes are not going to last another 50 years,” Bradford said of the aging system in Sun City.
EPCOR plans to file its consolidation plan and rate case by Apr. 29. Bradford explained that hearings on the matter could be held in early 2017 with a final decision by the ACC in 2018. EPCOR expects some of those hearing to be held in the Tri-State area.