Liberty Utilities rate hearings postponed

By Maja Peirce

The hearings set to study the proposed increase in utility rates by Liberty Utilities, the private utilities company that supplies wastewater services to approximately 2,450 Carefree and North Scottsdale customers within the Liberty Utility Service Area, has been postponed until November 10, 2020. Public comment will still be accepted on September 16 by calling in to the Arizona Corporations Commission at 602-542-425.

After proposing an increase for residents from $79 to $110 a month including a surcharge of $11 and an increase from $85 to $114 for commercial businesses, residents within the community felt taken advantage of and decided to protest. They wrote letters to the Arizona Corporation Commision (ACC) and the Residential Utility Consumer Office (RUCO). The two organizations performed a rate study and found they believed that Liberty Utilities should be lowering their rates not increasing them.
While the hearings were set for September 16, Liberty Utilities legal counsel, Jay Sharpiro, requested a hearing for September 8 which was monitored by Sasha Paternoster, the administrative law judge for the case’s proceedings, ACC representatives, RUCO representatives, HOA officials, and Carefree’s counsel.

According to Bob Moore, local activist and ACC appointed Intervenor, at the September 8 hearing, Shapiro indicated there was so much information coming from their opposition and they are hoping to negotiate the financial position taken by the ACC and RUCO — that they feel it would be beneficial to delay the hearings.

The following statement was given by Matthew Garlick, Liberty Utilities President for Arizona and Texas:
“We recognize that nobody wants to see their utility rates increase. Liberty Utilities’ rate application proposes the recovery of costs necessary to close the Boulders Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was ordered by the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) after local residents and community leaders petitioned for years citing noise and odor concerns that were impacting property values and quality of life for residents. The plant was closed in November 2018 and the project was completed in June 2019.

The proposed rate increase for residential customers of approximately $20 per month is less than the amount the company and local leaders estimated at the time the ACC approved and ordered the plant closure, and factors project timeline and cost impacts resulting from legal and construction challenges that were beyond Liberty’s control.
What’s important to remember is essential service providers like Liberty are heavily regulated by the ACC to achieve rate transparency and ensure the amount customers pay is fair and aligned with the actual cost of providing utility service and making critical system improvements.

Liberty is proud to serve customers in Carefree and Scottsdale and remains committed to serving our communities with the highest levels of care, transparency and integrity.”

Although the Carefree counsel strongly opposed the delay, it was overall ruled it would be the right course of action. Due to the disputes over water services between Cave Creek and Carefree taking place in October, the Liberty Utilities hearings were set to happen in November to give the Carefree counsel ample time to prepare for the hearings.