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ANTELOPE VALLEY WATER COMPANY


Residents swarm meeting to protest water rate hike

Last increase for improvements 5 years ago
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press July 1, 1999.
By MICHAEL BITTON
Valley Press Staff Writer

Customers of Antelope Valley Water Co. showed up en masse Tuesday to protest proposed water rate increases.

Antelope Valley Water Co., owned by Dominguez Water Corp. of Long Beach, provides water in Leona Valley, Lake Hughes, part of Lancaster and in the Fremont Valley near California City. Rates for its 1,250 customers were last raised in 1994.

If a proposed rate increase is implemented as planned, over the next three years, rates will increase by nearly 63% in Leona Valley; 71% in Lake Hughes; 65% in Lancaster; and 66% in the Fremont Valley.

Average bills in those areas are now $50.73 in Leona Valley; $21.42 in Lake Hughes; $37.76 in Lancaster; and $31.26 in the Fremont Valley.

Speaking on behalf of Antelope Valley Water Co., John Tootle, chief financial officer of Dominguez, said "We have significantly increased our investment in your systems."

That drew some chuckles from the audience of more than 50 residents crowded into a conference room at the Oxford Inn on West Avenue K in Lancaster.

Rates were raised five years ago to pay for improvements to the water systems, company officials said. At that time, rates in Leona Valley went up about 24%; in Lake Hughes about 16%; in Lancaster about 21%; and in Fremont Valley about 33%.

Antelope Valley Water asked the Public Utilities Commission for even higher rates five years ago, but was told to put improvements in place first and ask for a recovery of the cost at a later date. That's what the latest rate increase request is designed to do.

"I have nothing bad to say about the people who come out and work on our water," said Fremont Valley resident Jack Chacanaca. "They're great."

It's the company's complaint that it needs to recoup costs that raised his ire.

Chacanaca said while struggling through the Dominguez automated phone system this week in an effort to speak to a live person, he accidentally ended up in a company news area, where a recording told him about the company's informational page on the World Wide Web (www.dominguezh2o.com) , so he decided to check it out.

He learned the company has paid dividends to stockholders for 145 consecutive quarters. He also learned that the company's stock price has increased dramatically in recent years.

In July of 1994, a share of Dominguez was $11.33. Tuesday, a share of Dominguez cost $30.75.

"That's a 271% increase for the stockholders," Chacanaca said. "I believe in profit, but I believe 271% is a little excessive."

Tootle responded by saying property taxes supplement water bills in government-run water systems, making their monthly bills seem lower.

"Your bill doesn't reflect the whole cost if it's from a city or county," he said.

Paul Sloan, president of the Leona Valley Town Council, described the proposed increase as unjustifiable.

"There are about 500 homes in Leona Valley," he said. "It is not growing. Our water system needs to be maintained, not expanded."

A copy of the rate increase proposal is available for review at the Quartz Hill office of Antelope Valley Water, 5015 West Ave. L-14.

A formal evidentiary hearing on the increase will take place in August or September, said James C. McVicar, the administrative law judge who oversaw Tuesday's hearings.

By November or December, McVicar will draft a decision on the increase and make it available for more public comment.

"Just because they ask for this increase doesn't mean they'll get it," McVicar said.

Company spokeswoman Shannon Dean said Dominguez' request for a rate increase is a negotiation.

"We have data supporting everything we're asking for," she said. "This is going to be carefully looked at."


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