The Bullhead City Council voted unanimously today to ask voters to decide whether the city should issue debt to acquire EPCOR’s water system. The move follows many months of complaints from Bullhead City residents about EPCOR’s rate increases and which resulted in the city’s intervention into EPCOR’s recent rate increase case before the Arizona Corporation Commission.
In March 2019, the city launched a thorough investigation to determine the value of EPCOR’s water system. The city’s consultants visited the EPCOR facilities and water infrastructure, went through extensive publicly available records about EPCOR and determined the estimated market value of the EPCOR water system to be $55 million.
Although most Americans get their water from municipal water utilities that are publicly owned by their local city, Bullhead City residents get their water from EPCOR, a profit-generating investor-owned corporation based in Canada, with one shareholder, the City of Edmonton.
Mayor Tom Brady has stated he believes our community would be better served by a water utility owned and operated by a city that doesn’t generate a profit from an essential public service. “We believe strongly in these principles, acquiring the EPCOR water system and operating it as a publicly-owned utility is the best way to provide our residents with local water, local control and local rates at the lowest possible cost”, Brady said.
Voters will get the opportunity to weigh-in on the issue on November 5. The ballot initiative would ask whether the city should issue up to $130 million in debt to acquire the private water system that serves city residents. The amount on the ballot initiative is the value EPCOR has placed on its system. Although the $130 million is much higher than the $55 million estimated value, the difference would allow the city flexibility in the acquisition process. If the voters approve, the city will move ahead with negotiations with EPCOR to purchase the water system. If EPCOR will not negotiate, the city will use the legal right cities have to acquire the utility.
Mayor Brady further stated, “EPCOR proposed a 59 percent rate increase in 2017, after substantially raising rates by 35 percent just two years earlier, so in less than four years, our rates for the average 7,000 gallon a month user went up 86 percent. The rate increases residents and businesses have endured are out of line with what neighboring communities are paying. EPCOR’s business model is also based on consolidation of services to increase profits. In effect, consolidation means Bullhead City residents would be subsidizing water rates for more wealthy people who live in the metropolitan Phoenix area.”
EPCOR has said it objects to the city’s efforts and has launched a negative campaign to try to convince residents that having a water system owned and operated locally with decisions being made by representatives they elect is not in their best interest. To date EPCOR has surveyed residents, purchased billboard ads, written misleading editorials and formed a political action committee –the Taxpayers Against City Takeover-to fund the campaign. Bullhead City is restricted from spending taxpayer funding on campaigns and can only provide residents with facts and education materials.
More information about this matter is available at www.bullheadcity.com.