Proposed water hike sparks public outcry

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SURPRISE, ARIZ. -- Residents of parts of Surprise and Buckeye are fighting a proposed water rate increase that could hike their bills by more than 80 percent.

The Arizona America Water Company says the rate increase is necessary to pay for a new water treatment plant, costs that were incurred by the company four years ago.

"The intention in that plan was to pay with hookup fees from new homes coming in," said Jim McManus, a homeowner in Surprise. "The new homes aren't coming in at least right now. They built it anyway and turned around and smiled at all the residents in Surprise and said we got a bill we want you to pay."

The company says the average household would see a $25 to $30 increase in their monthly bill if the rate increase is approved.

Hundreds of angry residents showed up at the Surprise baseball stadium Tuesday night for a rally against the proposed hike.

"We have empty homes, we have businesses that are not filled with economic development, we have families that are hurting and we have a lull in our economy," said resident Eric Cultum. "All I know is that a water rate as astronomical as this is not good for Surprise."

Many of those impacted are senior citizens living on fixed incomes who say they would also be pinched by trickle-down fees from homeowner associations and local businesses.

The residents hope to persuade the Arizona Corporation Commission to vote against the proposed hike.

The commission has scheduled hearings on the rate hike proposal Wednesday through Friday this week at 9:30 a.m.

Residents who oppose the rate increase plan to show up to testify against the hike.

The commission is set to make a decision on whether or not to approve the increase early next year.

The Arizona American Water Company declined to be interviewed, but released this statement:

"We understand there is never a good time for a rate increase and are sensitive to our customers concerns. Arizona American Water is seeking a rate increase, in part, as a result of significant investments it made in infrastructure as well as increased operational costs. 

"The primary driver is the cost of the new White Tanks Water Treatment Plant. Customers are currently benefiting from renewable surface water being treated at this plant. However, none of the costs of the plant, some of which were incurred back in 2007, are included in current rates."

Some 30,000 residents in Surprise and Buckeye would be affected by the water rate hike.