So-Hi water customers upset over rate hike proposal

Some So-Hi Estates subdivision residents don't like the idea that their water bills could increase.

They also don't like practices of the So-Hi Domestic Water Improvement board.

Residents say a proposed rate increase would be a financial burden and believe the board has not done a good job trying to justify the proposal.

"People are worried," said John Crowder, a Mohave County government employee who lives in the tiny subdivision on the west side of the Cerbat foothills with his wife and two young sons.

"Make it fair.

Make it clear on why they need the raise in rates."

Homeowner Bob Singer, who is undergoing chemotherapy, said he expects his bills to go up $35 to $40 per month in his single-wide mobile home.

His bill in August amounted to $38.78.

The current rate structure is $17.50 for the first 1,500 gallons and 75 cents for each 500 gallons for up to 4,000 gallons.

The median usage is 8,000 gallons per month, and comes to $27.25.

The water district has 210 customers.

The proposal would create a sliding scale designed to encourage water conservation, according to board member Richard Leibold.

The comparison chart states rates would increase 1 percent for 2,000 gallons ($18.50) and average 23 percent ($33.50) for median useage.

Higher operating and maintenance costs justify the rate hike proposal, board chairman Jack Hommel said.

"You understand that the (water) system is 10 years old and is beginning to show its age, and we have increasing maintenance and repair costs," Hommel said.

"We have in the past year in a half had pipe ruptures, equipment rentals and doubling costs of electricity.

Those are just some of many of the costs that absolutely have to be done."

The district gets water from a well near Johnston Canyon leased from the city of Kingman for 40 years, Hommel said.

Leibold, an artist who has served on the board off and on for 16 years and is the only elected member, acknowledged that the board could have done a better job of explaining the rate hike proposal.

"There was a lot of misunderstanding as to why we are doing it," he said.

Leibold said that during the Aug.

14 board meeting he suggested postponing a decision in response to the concerns raised by people who packed the meeting.

Leibold and Hommel were criticized about how they acted during the meeting.

Singer's wife, Maralyn Flynn-Singer, said that when a woman asked questions about business operations, Leibold became irate, threw his cap on the counter and said, "I don't have to listen to this crap."

Leibold said he does not recall wearing a cap, adding, "That is their opinion.

I did not use profanity.

I did use the word 'crap.' Those people were very hostile."

Flynn-Singer and Crowder also criticized Hommel for announcing that customers had to submit questions in writing two weeks in advance of meetings.

Hommel said he did so "so that it will not become disruptive and all submitted questions, queries and comments will be addressed at the next scheduled meeting."

Such a policy violates the spirit of the state's open-meetings laws, said Phil MacDonnell, an attorney for the Phoenix law firm representing the Arizona Newspapers Association.

"This is a really drastic approach," he said.

Hommel was following the "normal procedure," Leibold said.

However, Leibold said customers are free to speak and ask questions about agenda items and during the "call to the public" at the end of the meetings.

"You are not going to get any peace until you let them have their say," he said.

Flynn-Singer said, "We would support this board if they treated us with a little more dignity."