Regulators review policy that financially hit thousands of utility customers following indictment

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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

State utility regulators Tuesday voted to review a policy that allowed more than a dozen small water companies to jack up their rates on customers to pay for their personal income taxes.

This follows the federal bribery and fraud indictment of a former member of the Arizona Corporation Commission who spearheaded the effort six years ago.

Since 2011, 29 utility companies have raised their rates on customers to cover their income taxes, forcing more than 91,000 people to pay higher water bills, according to a commission spokeswoman.  

While the five-member commission could reverse the policy, it's unlikely that customers will see a refund.

The commission does not have the legal authority to force utilities to give back money; only the courts have that power.

Gary Pierce, the former chairman of the Commission,  is accused of selling his vote on the 2011 rate hike to the owner of Johnson Utilities, George Johnson, for cash and potentially real estate.

The federal indictment also accuses lobbyist, Jim Norton, of funneling $31,500 to Sherry Pierce, the wife of Gary Pierce and a congressional staffer.

All four pleaded not guilty last week in court.

[RELATED: Ex-AZ Corp. Commissioner, owner of Johnson Utilities indicted on bribery charges]

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Dennis WlechVeteran political reporter Dennis Welch is a well-respected political expert in Arizona.

Dennis Welch
Political Editor

Before making the move to television, Welch wrote and edited for the Arizona Guardian, a highly influential online news site dedicated to Arizona politics and government where he served as owner and editor. During his Guardian days, Welch was a frequent guest on “Politics Unplugged” and has been a regular fixture on the state political landscape since 2005 appearing on numerous radio and television talk shows. “I am thrilled to start working with such a talented and dedicated staff of journalists,” said Welch. “This is a great opportunity to broaden the reach of my political coverage and tell stories that affect Arizona voters and their families.” With more than 13 years of experience under his belt, Welch’s arrival only strengthens 3TV’s commitment to providing first-rate political and government coverage across all platforms. When not covering politics, Welch is an avid runner and fronts a punk rock band that plays frequently throughout the Southwest and California. Welch is a well-respected political expert in Arizona and his addition means 3TV will provide a stronger, more robust political presence in Arizona. He joins 3TV from the Arizona Guardian, a highly influential online news site dedicated to Arizona politics and government where he served as owner and editor. During his Guardian days, Welch was a frequent guest on “Politics Unplugged” and has been a regular fixture on the state political landscape since 2005 appearing on numerous radio and television talk shows. “I am thrilled to start working with such a talented and dedicated staff of journalists,” said Welch. “This is a great opportunity to broaden the reach of my political coverage and tell stories that affect Arizona voters and their families.” With more than 13 years of experience under his belt, Welch’s arrival only strengthens 3TV’s commitment to providing first-rate political and government coverage across all platforms. When not covering politics, Welch is an avid runner and fronts a punk rock band that plays frequently throughout the Southwest and California.

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