Water rates going up again in Apple Valley
A mere nine days after a Liberty Utilities-financed ballot measure passed, which will make it harder for the community to buy the water system, Liberty filed a notice that it wants to raise water rates nearly 5 percent.
The increase of 4.88 percent would take effect Jan. 1, 2017. Liberty’s rate of return on its investment would be 9.26 percent, per an advice letter the company submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission, which sets the rates.
“The gall of these people never ceases to amaze me,” said Mayor Barb Stanton. “They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an election to make it more difficult for the town to buy the system and then they hit us with a rate increase.”
Town Manager Frank Robinson said it is another example of Liberty’s careless disregard for its ratepayers. “This is extremely dishonest. Liberty knew this increase was coming. It seems they deliberately held off on sending a public notice until after the election because they knew it would hurt Measure V.”
Campaign reports show Liberty Utilities spent hundreds of thousands of dollars backing Measure V – which requires a vote of the citizens each time the town government wants to issue debt in excess of $10 million for enterprise purposes. Apple Valley has filed an eminent domain action against Liberty. Now the Town must obtain a vote of the people before it can complete the acquisition process, adding more time and cost to the process. This will give Liberty another opportunity to throw hundreds of thousands dollars in rate payer money in opposition. No other town, municipal or county government in California operates under such a restriction.
Soon after Liberty purchased the water system from Park Water it received PUC approval to collect $3 million in surcharges because customers had cut back water use in 2015. The latest rate increase reflects the third rate escalation in the 2015-17 rate cycle. Liberty is asking for 4.88 percent now, but retroactively increased water rates by 25.27 percent in 2015 and 8.56% for 2016. The authorized rate of return was 9.26 percent for all three years.
“We have seen unconscionable rate increases for the past three years and we can expect Liberty to start another three-year cycle of rate increases in January. Even if the rate increases sound small, remember that they are based on higher rates from the previous years,” said Town Manager Robinson. “Even the most lucrative Wall Street companies are not making 9 percent a year.”
“Our people cannot afford these outrageous increases,” said Mayor Stanton. “We must continue to fight for local control of our water system.”