Arizona Corporation Commission Wants Public Input On Johnson Utilities Interim Manager

By Jimmy Jenkins, Mark Brodie, Lauren Gilger
Published: Wednesday, July 25, 2018 - 12:08pm
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2018 - 12:09pm
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This week, the Arizona Corporation Commission is trying to rectify serious problems with water and sewer systems in the South East Valley.

On Tuesday, the commission took an extraordinary step by voting to appoint an interim manager at Johnson Utilities.

This is a big deal because the Corporation Commission went through an extensive process with hearings, witness testimony — just like a trial — looking at these complaints of low water pressure, unannounced outages and even one case where 65,000 gallons of sewage ended up overflowing into the streets.

An attorney for Johnson Utilities said things were getting better, more wells were coming online, but the commissioners weren’t buying it. They said they had heard these promises before.

The commissioners, with Andy Tobin choosing to abstain, voted in favor of appointing an interim manager for this company that will take over with the charge of restoring this utility but then returning it to Johnson Utilities control.

One of the staff members raised the possibility of being sued by Johnson Utilities so they said they needed to make very clear that this was a temporary, emergency tactic because drinking water and wastewater treatment is so important that they actually have to step in.

But they continued to clarify that this was not a takeover of the company, denying Johnson Utilities an opportunity to sue or to give them an excuse for more failures. The commission just wanted to get the system back on its feet and hand it back over to the company.

However, it was not clear whether or not rates would go up.

One of the staff members told the commissioners he thought there was enough revenue available at current rates but they did not rule out the possibility of an increase. Once the interim manager takes over, they could find significant problems that could add to the cost. 

The other factor is who the actual interim manager will be.

The commission's staff, based on several factors, narrowed down to four candidates for interim manager: EPCOR, Global Water Resources, Southwest Gas and the combined towns of Queen Creek and Florence.

At the Queen Creek town council last week, they voted to team up with Florence as the interim manager, agreeing to join their water systems. But when the commission discussed this, staff members told them this part of their plan might actually have serious disadvantages. Primarily, it would seem like a permanent move.

Both towns are also obviously frustrated by the company, so the commissioners were advised to take that into consideration.

The commission is making a decision on Thursday at 4:00 p.m. at a public meeting.

They are encouraging public feedback and comments on the Arizona Corporation Commission website.

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