BULLHEAD CITY — An EPCOR official and an expert on utilities and eminent domain law are scheduled to speak Tuesday at a community forum aimed at presenting EPCOR’s point of view on Proposition 415.
The forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Bullhead City/Mohave Valley Association of Realtors Conference Center, 837 Hancock Road in Bullhead City.
The Bullhead City Council earlier this year voted to put Proposition 415 on a November mail-in ballot, asking taxpayers to authorize a bond issue for the purpose of acquiring EPCOR Water Arizona’s local utility infrastructure. The move was the city’s response to EPCOR’s rate increase and consolidation request made to the Arizona Corporation Commission and a subsequent emergency rate structure authorized by the ACC.
According to information provided by Taxpayers Against City Takeover, a political action committee supported by EPCOR, through Phoenix-based public relations firm S+C Communications, the forum is to provide “the facts about Bullhead City’s $130 million plan to seize the community’s private water system.”
Shawn Bradford, EPCOR vice president of corporate services, will be joined at the meeting by attorney Joe Conner, of the law firm and lobbying group Baker Donelson, formally known as Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz P.C.
Conner, according to Baker Donelson, “has significant experience in a wide range of commercial litigation, with a focus on representing utilities and businesses in eminent domain actions.”
If voters approve the city’s attempt to acquire the local water system, eminent domain proceedings could be initiated if the city and EPCOR cannot come to an amicable sales agreement. EPCOR officials have stated that the local system is “not for sale.”
According to information from S+C Communications, bullet points for Tuesday night’s presentation will include:
- Learn how the eminent domain process works, and why it’s costly, time-consuming and the price would be set by a jury — not Bullhead City government officials.
- Learn why this could result in higher rates and taxes.
- Learn about why Bullhead City is under investigation by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, spending taxpayer money to influence the election.
After opposing EPCOR’s proposed consolidation and rate structure for its 11 Arizona water districts before the ACC last year, the city council originally crafted a proposition to be placed on the November 2018 ballot seeking authorization from voters to pursue the acquisition of EPCOR Water Arizona’s local holdings. That proposition was removed, however, after a meeting between Bullhead City and EPCOR officials produced a Bullhead City proposal for a separate consolidation of EPCOR’s four entities in Mohave County.
City officials, believing they had EPCOR’s backing in that proposal, made the proposal to merge the company’s Mohave, North Mohave, Willow Valley and Havusu districts. Mohave and North Mohave combine to provide water to most Bullhead City and some Fort Mohave residents. The Willow Valley district includes a large portion of Mohave Valley.
City officials said in January they were stunned that EPCOR did not support the new proposal before the ACC, citing a “gentlemen’s agreement” they said was reached during a meeting with EPCOR in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, last year.
“We asked EPCOR to support the alternative,” City Manager Toby Cotter said in January. “They did not do that.”
Bullhead City Mayor Tom Brady said during the ACC hearings that the city felt that EPCOR was essentially using Bullhead City ratepayers to subsidize EPCOR systems in other parts of the state with little or no concern for the impact a rate increase would have locally.
The push for city takeover was back on and Proposition 415 was authored, capping the bond issue at $130 million — which was an estimate of the local system’s value provided by EPCOR. The city hired an outside consultancy firm that later placed the value at $55 million — somewhere between a low valuation of $42.16 million and a high estimate of $70.7 million.
The valuation is important — and the huge range between the company and city estimates is major — because if the city goes forward with its efforts, a court may be asked to decide the “just compensation” for EPCOR’s assets.
In its opposition to Proposition 415, TACT consistently has used the $130 million figure and noted the actual cost, after interest on the bonds, would be “more than $400 million.”
The city has said the $130 million figure was written into the proposition because that was the figure EPCOR provided, although city officials believe a court would set the value substantially lower.
The Bullhead City Council’s next meeting is 9 a.m. Monday — a scheduling conflict prompted the council to move the meeting up a day. An agenda posted for Monday’s meeting did not mention Proposition 415 or EPCOR, although the issue is likely to come up during the call to the public and could be raised during “mayor and council members’ report on current events.”