BULLHEAD CITY — As of Thursday with only 51 ballots left to count from Tuesday’s Proposition 415 election, officials say that even with the narrow gap between yes and no votes that it’s apparent there’s consent for the city to begin the process of acquiring the local water infrastructure from EPCOR Water Arizona.
The Mohave County Elections Department confirmed there were 51 votes remaining — too few votes left to change the outcome. The unofficial totals as of Thursday night had 4,798 (50.42%) votes in favor and 4,719 votes (49.58%) against Proposition 415.
County staff could complete the vote-counting today and begin compiling a canvassing report after the three-day weekend.
Bullhead City Manager Toby Cotter said Thursday the decision allowing the city to acquire EPCOR’s local assets is second only in importance to the city’s incorporation in 1984.
Cotter said this is an opportune time for everyone to “take a deep breath” because of the slim margin of approval and “intense feelings on both sides.”
Nonetheless, residents in favor — and city officials — want to begin the process soon, he emphasized.
While EPCOR officials in Arizona and the United States have been saying that the local water system is not for sale, the city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has made it clear that it
has “a lot to say about how EPCOR operates,” Cotter said.
“We believe there’s an opportunity to negotiate, for cooler heads to prevail,” he stressed. “Both cities can work together. Now it’s time for their city manager and elected officials to get involved.”
If that route isn’t successful, the value will be determined in court. Raftelis Financial Consulting this past summer made an estimate of $55 million mostly based on a sales valuation method. An income-based approach concluded that the value could be about $71 million.
Negotiations might even result in a sales price of $44 million — a rate-based valuation, Cotter said.
The lowest amount was derived by Raftelis staff by reading documents EPCOR submitted to the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Gannett Fleming Valuation and Rate Consultants, LLC, produced a valuation for EPCOR on October stating the Bullhead City system is worth nearly $136 million.
The city will have to prove to those opposed to the acquisition that it was the right thing to do.
“It’s my hope that when these people look back in three years or so ... they realize that the city did what it said it was going to do: stabilize and/or reduce rates.”
Cotter also said he wanted to emphasize that he believes EPCOR will continue doing a professional job of providing the community with water until they “give us the keys.”
Some online posts have been written that claim otherwise and Cotter wanted to address that.
“They won’t do anything to harm the community and will remain a quality company providing quality service to the community,” he added.
The city’s effort to acquire the local EPCOR water system stems from water rates going up over recent years and the strong likelihood the rates could continue rising at a fast pace in the future. EPCOR has raised rates charged to local customers by almost 90% since 2012.
An EPCOR spokeswoman said Thursday the company respects the people’s right to vote — even if it “allows the city government to seize a private business,” said Rebecca Stenholm, directo of public and government affairs for EPCOR USA.
She continued: “It’s clear residents remain divided on this issue, but we respect their rights and will now move forward with our top priority — to continue to deliver safe, reliable water and fight for the appropriate value of our business.”
Canvass of the election will be on the City Council agenda for the Nov. 19 meeting.