SAN TAN VALLEY — Residents voiced grievances and opposition to a proposed Johnson Utilities rate hike at a Arizona Corporation Commission public hearing Tuesday morning.
Nobody spoke favorably of the utility or the rate increase.
The rate hike would see water service increase in cost by 23.6 percent and wastewater would increase by 17.6 percent. The docket shows that the utility lost money in the fiscal year ending June 30 and that they would need to increase revenue by $5.6 million to cover the deficit.
Many residents complained that the utility was charging them for using exorbitant amounts of water they couldn’t possibly be using. So many residents complained about this that the commission began to track and tally the complaints for later use.
“How can they say I use 33 (thousand) gallons of water per month? I’m not watering the golf course,” Catheryn La Grange said.
The response from the utility? You have a leak or someone is stealing your water, she said.
“We had a plumber, there is no leak,” she said. “I started with paper plates, plastic forks, (barbecuing), so I don’t have to use that much water. And they want more money?”
One resident even said she had been charged for 60,000 gallons of water. Fred Campbell said he had a 7,000 gallon spike on his water bill in one month with no change in behavior. He was told that he must have a leak.
“Excuse me, I’m a plumber, I don’t have a leak,” Campbell said.
Nick Myers, who is running for the state House of Representatives, spoke and said that watching what has happened with Johnson Utilities was part of what inspired him to run.
“I find it preposterous that the ACC, the very organization charged with regulating them, should pancake like a mouse before Johnson Utilities, the very company it’s supposed to be a watchdog for,” Myers said. “Clearly their objective isn’t money, it’s sticking it to those of us who dare to complain.”
After the public hearing, ProgressNow, a grass-roots organization, held a press conference to kick off its “AZ Watergate” campaign. The group says they aim to highlight the connections between Johnson Utilities and top players in Arizona politics, particularly Gov. Doug Ducey, who received the maximum allotted donation from George Johnson.
“We’re launching it because the people of Pinal County deserve better, we deserve fair bills, adequate service, and water that’s safe to drink reliably. So far, Johnson Utilities has failed to provide that,” Co-director at ProgressNow Emily Kirkland said. “We are calling on Arizona Officials to put clean water first by cutting their (ties) with Johnson, Norton and Pierce. And that means returning the thousands of dollars of campaign donations they have received from these men. Second, by addressing the culture of corruption at the Arizona Corporation Commission.”
The Tuesday hearing, broken up into three sessions, was held in Pinal County Supervisor Mike Goodman’s San Tan Valley office.
Three more open house sessions are planned for Wednesday at the Central Arizona College San Tan Campus, 3736 E. Bella Vista Road, San Tan Valley.
The three sessions for the public to attend are 8-10 a.m., noon-2 p.m. and 6-8 p.m.
The sessions were designed for staff to hear feedback on the proposed rate increase and also any comments on complaints with the water and wastewater company.
There is no time frame for when commissioners might hear the proposed rate increase.