The mayor and city council lent their ears to the public Tuesday, calling on residents to speak about the city’s privately held water utility, Global Water.
In a packed City Hall chamber, roughly 20 people lined up to voice their concerns regarding water quality, main ruptures and alleged poor quality customer service.
The most heated accusations of the evening, however, were directed toward what customers called “dubious” billing.
Allegations lobbed cited instances in which late fees were charged to customers that never received an initial bill, or when customers were charged for replacing meters they didn’t break.
These and other allegations have mounted over the years and have caused some residents to seek remedy.
One such resident, Marty McDonald, heads a coalition organizing an online petition against the utility. It declares Maricopa residents are “extremely frustrated with the business practices, operation standards and infrastructure of Global Water Resources.”
Though McDonald did publicly recognized the large role Global Water played in helping the city grow, he also suggested that at some point the company lost its way.
“Global Water was a great partner for the city,” McDonald said. “They did a lot of good things, but at some point in time, and lord knows when, that train fell off the tracks.”
Though Mayor Christian Price announced at the outset the meeting would not be addressing rates, those in attendance and following the meeting online continued to complain about the expensive basic fees. Global Water’s rates and annual increases were negotiated with the City and most of the homeowner’s associations as part of a rate case before the Arizona Corporation Commission in 2014.
Multiple Global Water customers in Maricopa have received bills exponentially higher than their typical bills — $1,800 in one case — hence the extensive public outcry.
According to multiple residents’ complaints, they were told by Global Water’s customer service representatives in a call center the problem must be on the customer’s side of the meter and that if technicians had to do an inspection and nothing was found to be wrong, the customer would be charged $30.
McDonald said any rebuff heard about this and other accusations from Global Water representatives could only be described in two words — “alternative facts.”
In response to the accusations, Global Water CEO Ron Fleming said the company has been working for the past six months with the billing service provider and their customer service department to solve some of the billing issues. However, he equated the fees for meter replacement and basic service to standard practice and infrastructure operational costs.
“We are responsible for the infrastructure,” Fleming said. “That stops at the meter.”
All accusations and unsatisfactory customer service aside, no proof of fraud was presented at the forum, only a handful of errors — seven — that Global Water has owned up to.
Fleming said the company plans to start having regular public forums at the Global Water building in Maricopa for customers to air grievances and complaints and get answers.
Global Water is the only water provider for the majority of residents in Maricopa. Without evidence of deliberate fraud, customers have little line for recourse. The city council’s regular agenda for the night also included two executive sessions that sought legal advice regarding Global Water.
“We are a captive society,” Maricopa resident Margaret Graczyk said. “What are we to do?”