EPCOR To Consolidate Wastewater Districts, Charge Flat Fee
EPCOR water, a subsidiary of a Canadian utilities company, treats the waste water of several communities in Arizona, mostly in the West Valley. Now, the Arizona Corporation Commission is ordering EPCOR to consolidate all the wastewater districts after years of discussion.
In 2014, the Arizona Corporation Commission ordered private water provider EPCOR to change how it charged its customers in areas from Sun City West to Anthem to Bullhead City.
Those districts were being charged different rates, ranging from about $20 to $70, depending on the district.
EPCOR services about 66,000 customers that are scattered. For example parts of Anthem, Sun City, and a home-owners association in Buckeye called Verrado, to name a few.
About four years ago, the commission allowed EPCOR to change its wastewater rates to shift costs around the districts. That eventually led to a huge disparity in the fees customers were paying for the same service from the same company.
In one example, their Agua Fria district was going to be paying up to $100 a month, while Sun City West only pays about $20 a month – even though they both use the same Waste Water treatment plant.
In a 4-1 Corporation Commission decision this June, EPCOR will consolidate all districts and change wastewater fees over the next five years to one flat fee of around $38.
There were hundreds of complaints to the commission, and many came from the districts paying the most like Agua Fria and Verrado. The commission heard their complaints and asked EPCOR to look into a solution to address the big gap in fees.
One of those solutions was to consolidate the districts, basically putting them all under one rate roof.
Verrado resident Michael Harris has been following this rate case and advocating for his community for the past three years after his rate went up to a peak of $100 a month.
“Then when we found out other EPCOR customers being served by the same company were paying $18 and $22 a month for their service in Sun City and Sun City West we went, wait a minute, this doesn’t make any sense at all, how can you charge different rates for the same company for the same service.”
Harris said while it was frustrating going through the corporation commission, he felt EPCOR was transparent in their rate-change process. And now that the consolidation is going forward, he and his neighbors feel a huge relief.
The agreement comes down to phasing in the change. For Verrado residents, like Harris, that means their current $70 dollar fee will go down to $60 next month, then go down to around $50 next year, and continue until they pay about $39 a month.
That’s going to be the flat rate across all communities, including Sun City and Sun City West, where this consolidation was met with a lot of pushback. Those communities also account for a lot of EPCOR customers – the main argument from those residents is that a lot of them live on a fixed income, being retirees, and doubling the rate will be difficult for some.
The commission responded by saying it’s more than the customers were used to at $20, but it’s still under $40 dollars and that’s relatively low.
The same agreement the commission approved that created the flat rate also approved a $3.1 million revenue increase for EPCOR.
EPCOR spokesperson Rebecca Stenholm said the payments were calculated based on operating costs two years ago.
“So when the new rates go into effect July 1, they’re actually going to be based on what it cost for us to provide service, and the infrastructure investments made by 2015.”
EPCOR also said that by consolidating they’ll be saving money by reducing paperwork and centralizing the billing process. And they expect to be investing a lot into the Sun City area where the infrastructure is aging, and quickly.
“For us, this is the conclusion of a process that involved a lot of people, a lot of different perspectives, so we’re pleased to be able to move forward and provide that information to our customers,” Stenholm said.
EPCOR customer’s rates will change every July for the next five years until all are paying the same wastewater rate.