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The Sun City Homeowners Association, Sun City, Arizona, has played an integral role in preserving the values of the Sun City community since 1963. SCHOA serves as an advocate for Sun City residents by embracing the Del Webb philosophy of keeping it simple. [Read More…]
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Reprinted from an Independent Article by Rusty Bradshaw on June 7, 2021
Sun City Home Owners Association and Property Owners and Residents Association officials got a bit of a boost May 26 for their efforts to overturn consolidation of EPCOR Water wastewater districts with the backing of a national group.
The Arizona Corporation Commission granted a 2017 EPCOR officials’ request to consolidate five wastewater districts. The decision resulted in higher rates for Sun Cities customers, but lowered rates for customers in the other three former separate districts. SCHOA, with support from the Property Owners and Residents Association of Sun City West, the town of Youngtown and others, appealed the decision but lost in a lower court, setting up the petition to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court heard the case May 18, but a ruling had not been announced by press time.
“It is uncertain when we’ll get a decision from the court,” said Sun City resident Greg Eisert, former SCHOA board member and Governmental Affairs Committee chairman who attended the Supreme Court hearing. “But surely we’ll have something by the end of the year.
The newest development in the case was an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit civil rights group.
The brief, in support of petitioners in SCHOA v. ACC, asked the Arizona Supreme Court to interpret the statutory or regulatory texts for itself rather than deferring to the interpretation of an administrative agency, according to an NCLA press release.
NCLA officials argue the Arizona Court of Appeals erred in its January 2020 ruling by giving “extreme deference” to the Arizona Corporation Commission in violation of both the state and federal constitutions. The ruling led then-Chief Judge Michael J. Brown to pen a sharp dissent calling out the majority’s error in “giving virtually absolute deference” to the ACC.
NCLA officials also stated allowing judges to provide agency deference violates the due process clauses of both the state and federal constitutions.
Mr. Eisert said the Arizona Supreme Court hearing was lively, but the fact the highest court in the state agreed to hear the arguments could be interpreted as a good sign for Sun Cities wastewater customers.
“Less than one-one hundredth of cases get heard by the state Supreme Court,” he said.
Mr. Eisert said judges grilled ACC representatives and there was no time for EPCOR officials to speak.
In its review, the Arizona Supreme Court will evaluate two issues. The first is whether the Arizona Corporation Commission caused unlawful rate discrimination by consolidating several districts served by one public service corporation into a single district, where substantial cost-of-service differences existed among the formerly separate districts.
The second is whether the commission’s constitutional status commands “extreme deference” to its decisions.
Gail Warmath, SCHOA Governmental Affairs Committee chairwoman, said the wastewater district consolidation resulted in a 72% increase in Sun City wastewater bills, while Sun City West saw a smaller percentage increase. Other districts saw dramatic rate decreases as a result, she added.
“These changes occurred despite the fact they were not based on costs produced by each district,” Ms. Warmath said. “SCHOA has always and continues to support the principle of ‘cost causation;’ individual district costs should determine each district’s rates. It makes no sense that Sun City customers, whose median income is $39,000, should subsidize other district customers like Anthem, whose medium income is approximately $99,000.”
Getting the case to the Supreme Court would not have been possible without the members of SCHOA and PORA, and those who contributed extra funds for the court cases, according to SCHOA officials.
In addition to the wastewater appeal, SCHOA and PORA officials are interveners in EPCOR’s existing water rate and district consolidation request.
EPCOR Water Co. officials filed an application for new water rates June 15, 2020, to be effective no later than Aug. 15, 2021. The application includes consolidating 11 statewide water districts, an action opposed by SCHOA and PORA of Sun City West officials.
Mr. Eisert said ACC officials completed gathering input on the water case and a decision, which was not announced by press time, was expected soon.
The current case filing includes one standalone and four consolidation scenarios, according to Rebecca Stenholm, EPCOR Water public and governmental affairs director. They include one scenario where all districts remain standalone and another where all districts would become one. Two other options have the Sun Cities as standalone districts, one as separate and another combined, while the final option has the Sun City, Sun City West, Chaparral, Paradise Valley, Havasu/Havasu (Brooke) and Willow Valley all remaining separate standalone districts.
In that option Agua Fria, Anthem and Tubac would be consolidated into one district while Mohave and North Mohave would be merged in another.
EPCOR officials filed the water rate and consolidation request in 2018 but the commission, in a Jan. 25, 2019, meeting, could not reach a resolution on the previous case, ending with a 2-2 vote with Sandra Kennedy declaring a conflict and not voting. As a result of the deadlocked vote, the commission implemented interim rates based on pre-2019 rates, plus a volumetric surcharge.
Join SCHOA or renew your membership in 2021 and you will be entered in a drawing for a chance to win a $50 gift card. One drawing for a gift card will take place each month. There will be unannounced special drawings for additional prizes throughout the year and finally in December of 2021, we will have three drawings for three $100 cards. All previous entrants will be eligible for the special drawings and the December drawings.
For more information about SCHOA membership please call 623-974-4718 or visit our website: suncityhoa.org
Update: The oral arguments for this case were heard on May 18, 2021 here is a link to a video of those hearings. The Opinion will probably not be ready for a few months.
On March 3, 2021 the Arizona Supreme Court granted the Petition for Review filed by Sun City Home Owners Association (SCHOA) agreeing to address both issues raised in the Petition regarding the forced consolidation of several EPCOR wastewater districts.
SCHOA, with the support of the Recreation Centers of Sun City (RCSC), Property Owners and Resident Association (PORA) of Sun City West, the City of Youngtown, and others, has led the fight against forced consolidation and discriminatory pricing for most of the last decade. The decision of the Supreme Court to hear our Petition is “heartening” according to Jim Hunter, President of the SCHOA Board of Directors,
“The Arizona Corporation Commission has repeatedly ignored the pleas of the ratepayers in our district. The consolidation of the five (5) wastewater districts resulted in our ratepayers subsidizing the other districts while ignoring cost causation” Hunter stated.
While the court’s decision to hear the Petition does not guarantee it will reverse the Corporation Commission’s forced consolidation decision, it is according to Hunter, “validation that our position is strong and worthy of review, and evidence that our fight on behalf of our ratepayers goes on. We are grateful that the Court is allowing us this opportunity to be heard.”
The Court has set a March 23, 2021 deadline for filing supplemental briefs and a May 18, 2021 date for oral arguments. SCHOA wishes to thank PORA, the City of Youngtown, and others for their continuing financial and other support. SCHOA is especially thankful to its members, without whom these efforts would not be possible.
From SCHOA’s Government Affairs Committee:
- SCHOA continues to advocate on behalf of every home and condo owner in our community in matters of government affairs and utility rates.
- There is a rate case moving with the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) regarding EPCOR water rates. There are several scenarios presented in this rate case, including the full consolidation of 11 Water Districts including the Sun City District. SCHOA has historically opposed and continues to oppose forced consolidation.
- Full consolidation would likely result in approximately a 70% increase in water rates in Sun City.
- SCHOA (and others) have intervened in this rate case, and have entered testimony in opposition of any consolidation which includes Sun City District.
- SCHOA encourages every rate payer in our community to contact the ACC and voice opposition to any forced consolidation of our District. Consolidation would result in Sun City effectively subsidizing the other districts despite the costs in our District not justifying such an increase.
For the AZCC website follow this link and reference Dockett # WS-01303A-20-0177.