Global Water President Ron Fleming talks to the Maricopa City Council June 6. Photo by Mason Callejas

A local utility company has issued a formal public response to a swath of customer complaints recently lodged against them for their high rates, alleged dubious billing practices and poor-quality customer service.[quote_box_right]“Like it or not, Pinal County is going to be ground zero for this reality.”
— Ron Fleming [/quote_box_right]

Global Water Inc. responded to their customer’s concerns with a letter and presentation to the Maricopa City Council during their work session June 6. The company announced several changes to its fee structure and customer service.

Their rates, however, are not likely to shrink any time soon.

The utility has in the past cited a problematic infrastructure they inherited back in 2004 as well as infrastructure development done in anticipation of future growth as reasons why their rates are higher than average.

Councilmember Nancy Smith expressed concern with this explanation and wanted to know when there might be a turning point where Global Water customers won’t have to pay exorbitant rates because the city has grown to a level were the utility’s revenue offsets the cost of their development investment.

“At some point, you’re not bearing the cost of all that infrastructure,” Smith said. “I know it might be too early to tell at this point, but there will come a day. Does your business plan show us when that will be and when rates could be lowered for residents here in Maricopa?”

Global Water President Ron Fleming highlighted the aforementioned reasons and further described the rate structure, approved by the Arizona Corporation Commission, which he said allows for Global Water the right to make a yearly rate-of-return of at least 7.5 percent, a figure he has not yet seen his company come close to.

“Ultimately the question is ‘What is the rate of return on your invested capital?,’” Fleming said. “We, on that rate of return calculation, have not earned anywhere near the authorized rate of return that is approved by the Corporation Commission.”

During the presentation, Fleming acknowledged several other concerns, including 63 customer complaints filed in the last year, of which only three were “proven to be valid billing errors and were quickly rectified.”

Fleming also said the utility has begun to waive meter re-read fees for customers who have bills above $200, and that customers can request a special home visit, free of charge, to discuss “meters and leak detection.”

Their new policy also acknowledges the extenuating circumstances that can arise from “health concerns impacting a customer’s ability to pay,” Fleming said, which will be evaluated by local staff to help assist with billing and financial concerns.

As for customer service, Fleming said his company has added specially-trained Global Water staff, which has produced between 92 and 95 percent customer satisfaction since December.

A point of pride for Global water is evident in the fact that, according to them, customers in their Santa Cruz water district use the least amount of water among some of their competitors — 70,000 gallons less per year per customer.

This, Fleming said, is a result of the use of purple-pipe water recycling alongside the overall stewardship of a finite resource.

Another reason for rates not shrinking in the future, Fleming added, is the state of Arizona will not likely see a sudden influx of accessible water.

In fact, the amount of accessible water is likely to decrease in the future due to population growth, weather patterns and diminishing ground water supply.

“Like it or not, Pinal County is going to be ground zero for this reality,” Fleming said.