What Are We Doing?
Opposing the hostile takeover of Liberty Apple Valley
APPLE VALLEY — Rate increases requested by Liberty Utilities that would grow the company’s revenues by nearly $3 million over the next three years will be up for discussion in two forums scheduled for Thursday.
If Liberty’s rate case is approved by the California Public Utilities Commission — the agency holding the forums — average bi-monthly bills in Apple Valley would increase by $6.17 in 2019, according to a previous Daily Press report. They would also go up in 2020 and 2021 by $6.92 and $5.08, respectively.
Tony Penna, vice president and general manager of Liberty Apple Valley, previously described the three years of increases, which were requested in January, as “modest.” The company contends that 65 percent of customers pay about $100 every two months for water.
“While prices for most products and services in California have increased over the last five years to match inflation, our customers are paying less and benefitting from investments of nearly $42 million to maintain and improve the water system,” Penna said Tuesday. The expiration of drought surcharges have also brought down rates, he said.
Liberty last raised residents’ rates in January 2017. A rate freeze followed and remains in effect through June 2019. The freeze, a 4 percent rate decrease from May that passed on federal corporate income tax savings to customers, and other factors have resulted in average bills that are lower than they were in 2013, according to company officials.
Penna said Liberty is working with the CPUC to adjust its 2019-21 rate proposal with the freeze and other factors in mind. He said he expects those factors to reduce the rates ultimately approved by the CPUC.
A CPUC judge overseeing Liberty’s rate application will preside over Thursday’s forums. The San Francisco-based agency hopes to obtain customer feedback that will be included in the formal record of the application process.
The Town of Apple Valley has fought similar rate cases filed by Liberty in the past, according to Mayor Art Bishop. Increased rates are among the reasons the town is attempting to acquire the utility. An eminent domain trial between the two parties is expected to start next year.
“The people of the town need to speak their voice,” Bishop said Tuesday. “The increases are always more than what they tell you because they’re compounded. This is where local opinion is so critical.”
CPUC officials said Thursday’s forums will also be open to residents of Yermo, the sparsely populated High Desert community located about 13 miles east of Barstow.
Liberty has been Yermo’s water provider since September 2015. In 2017, the company spent about $732,000 in upgrades and announced a $6 million long-term plan to improve the neglected system.
The company has requested a revenue increase in Yermo of more than 80 percent in 2019, nearly 12.5 percent in 2020 and about 7.5 percent in 2021, according to CPUC documents. The plan is to phase in rate increases of 15 percent per year through 2024. If the CPUC approves Liberty’s current application, average bi-monthly bills would increase by more than $28 by 2021.
When Liberty acquired the Yermo Water System, Penna said, the system was “in a state of disrepair… There is still a lot of work to be done.”
He said the company is looking at state and federal grant options to pay for Yermo improvements.
Thursday’s forums will be held at 1 and 6 p.m. in the Apple Valley Conference Center located at 14975 Dale Evans Parkway. CPUC officials encouraged people to attend at the time most convenient for them.
Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press