SAN TAN VALLEY — An agreement has been reached between a utility provider and homebuilders and sellers on new utility hookups.
On Wednesday, the Arizona Corporation Commission heard from EPCOR Water Company, the company that’s been tasked with serving as the interim manager for Johnson Utilities, the water and wastewater provider in San Tan Valley.
Troy Day, vice president of operations for EPCOR, said the company and the development community had reached agreements that will alleviate the need for a moratorium on new hookups.
Last month, Day told the commission the company was unable to ensure proper service levels for existing customers if a glut of new water and wastewater hookups were to continue and requested the commission put a stay on new customers. Naturally, the development and real estate community was opposed; the groups had worked on the compromise for several weeks.
The agreement will free up capacity at the Pecan, San Tan and Anthem wastewater treatment plants by discharging effluent to several locations, including golf courses, Day said.
Each development will be allowed one hookup per month — for a total of 28 hookups each month — which can include water, wastewater or both. The compromise helped fend off “meter wars,” said commission Chairman Tom Forese.
Additionally, a slew of exceptions will allow for water and wastewater service, including if the hookup is for health or public safety or if a homeowner has closed on the home and is ready to move in.
An interconnection agreement with the town of Queen Creek will allow for some Johnson customers to be included in Queen Creek’s water and wastewater services as well, the agreement states.
Attorneys representing George Johnson, the owner of Johnson Utilities, said his client opposed several of the measures, saying Johnson hadn’t had an opportunity to weigh in on the proposal. Johnson also opposed several of the findings in an engineering report conducted by EPCOR assessing the infrastructure of Johnson Utilities, with attorney Jeff Crockett calling the report “premature” and saying EPCOR didn’t address many of the improvements that already were in place, such as the development of a new treatment plant to replace the failing plant known as Section 11.
The engineering report identified more than $170 million in structural improvements needed.
Also in his update, Day said EPCOR officials continue to work with the existing Johnson Utilities staff in areas of customer service and training. He said the company is having an increasingly difficult time hiring and retaining qualified employees, which he blamed in part on employees being “desperately underpaid.” Solving the pay and benefits issue is a priority for EPCOR as well, Day said. EPCOR officials are working on a compensation study.
Day noted, however, any changes in pay, benefits and insurance will be a “more difficult proposition” due to employees falling under the purview of Hunt Management, the company hired by George Johnson to manage personnel. Hunt Management is a subsidiary of Johnson Utilities, compounding matters.