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State should deny Aloha bid for escrow

There is no end to Aloha Utilities' greed and arrogance, even now that the water and sewer company is no longer in business. After closing on a $90.5 million sale of the utility's assets to the Florida Governmental Utility Authority last month, the company's shareholders claimed entitlement to more than $375,000 sitting in escrow from a disputed rate increase eight years ago.

It's an absurd money grab, akin to cashing in a winning lottery ticket at a convenience store then grabbing pennies from the countertop change cup on the way out the door.

The Public Service Commission should ignore this request. Aloha already has been compensated handsomely for its inability to solve more than a dozen years of customer complaints about dark, smelly water coming from household taps in Wyndtree, Chelsea Place and other Trinity area locations in southwest Pasco.

The escrowed money stems from $473,000 paid by customers for a 15 percent temporary rate increase that began November 2001 but later was invalidated by the PSC. Aloha refunded $142,000, about $7 per customer, but the balance remained in dispute.

In 2006, Aloha dropped its appeal of the rate case and put the refund into an interest-bearing account to help finance a new treatment system to improve the quality of the water. The sale to Florida Governmental Utility Authority negated that planned improvement, which led Aloha to claim the refund as its own.

We disagree. Twice the PSC has indicated the money should benefit the customers either through a refund or through better water. Neither happened under Aloha's watch. So, the state should order the money be used to offset the customers' costs of underwriting the FGUA purchase of Aloha.

At a PSC hearing five years ago, Sen. Mike Fasano asked Aloha to refund the escrow account to customers as an act of good faith as it supposedly worked toward a solution to customer complaints. Obviously, that didn't happen. The PSC now has the opportunity to demonstrate to customers it has a better understanding than Aloha of acting in good faith.

State should deny Aloha bid for escrow 03/23/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 23, 2009 5:34pm]
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