‘We’re not for sale’: EPCOR conducts town hall to voice opposition to 415

By TERRI HARBER, The Daily News, Aug 21, 2019

BULLHEAD CITY — An estimated 125 people came to a town hall Tuesday evening hosted by EPCOR Water Arizona that focused on various arguments against Proposition 415, a referendum by city government seeking voter approval to acquire the local water delivery infrastructure from EPCOR.

Shawn Bradford, vice president of EPCOR’s corporate services in Arizona, spoke. So did an attorney who focuses on eminent domain law also spoke, Joe Conner of Baker Donelson in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“We’re not interested in being driven out of business,” Bradford said. “They’re going to have to take the company from us. … We’re not for sale.”

He talked about the Arizona Attorney General’s Office looking into complaints by Taxpayers Against City Takeover, an anti-Proposition 415 political action committee EPCOR is funding, and Jeff Weninger, a state legislative representative from Chandler, alleging that city government has been flouting state law by putting out information biased in favor of Proposition 415.

Bradford also said that statewide consolidation of EPCOR’s holdings in Arizona won’t be a part of the permanent rate case the company will file in May 2020, with the Arizona Corporation Commission. Regional consolidation will be, however, he said.

And, Bradford stressed that he couldn’t predict what the rates “are going to be.”

He also pointed out that Bullhead City owns its water rights while EPCOR only owns the infrastructure used to treat and deliver the water to customers.

As was the case during a town hall last spring before the city council decided to put the EPCOR acquisition to voters, Bradford said the $55 million valuation on EPCOR’s assets is too low. The city is asking voters for $130 million based on a number used by an EPCOR representative.

Bradfored and Conner showed charts of eminent domain cases that began with low valuations that ended up having substantially higher judgments of worth. They assert this could happen if Bullhead City goes to court seeking value judgment on EPCOR’s local assets.

Conner said the city’s contractor for the EPCOR acquisition, Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc., was wrong in using a rate-based valuation assessment — they used three approaches total — because it’s not commonly used.

Long lines of people with questions — and plenty of comments — formed on both sides of the room once both of these men were done. And there were scattered outbursts of disbelief and incredulity.

One man, who shouted because the microphones weren’t working, garnered some scorn and was asked to leave. A Bullhead resident who either works for EPCOR or is related to one of its employees pointed out that she has lived here for 30 years after someone stated that EPCOR was a “guest in this city.”

Bradford also noted that EPCOR employs about 30 people who live in the community, pays about $1 million annually in city and county taxes. With city takeover, those tax payments disappear.

And, among other things, EPCOR is a “good corporate citizen.”

People had a variety of questions, including about how the company planned to improve water delivery as well as its quality.

“Profits must be so huge for the company to fight this hard,” said one woman. “How much profit is made here?”

Bradford said he couldn’t provide an answer isolating the local districts profit or loss.

One person asked, “What did Ronald Reagan say about government?”

The man was having trouble remembering. However, someone else in the audience mouthed one of the late president’s more famous quotes on the subject: “… government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

EPCOR will be putting together information presented during the town hall so residents can review it before the Nov. 5 deadline to return mail-in election ballots.