Florence "Evaluating" Purchase of Johnson Utilities, while AZ CorpCom Treats It Like a Done Deal
Florence is exploring the purchase of Johnson Utilities, one of the largest private water and sewer companies in Arizona, which services the San Tan Valley and parts of the town.
Some of the players involved are talking about the potential sale as a done deal. But there remain numerous unanswered questions about the proposed transaction, which has been the subject of rumors for weeks.
Earlier this month, Florence posted a notice to its official town website, announcing that it had "started the evaluation process for the purchase of the assets of Johnson Utilities," a move it first considered back in 2007.
According to its online statement, the town began to re-evaluate the purchase "late this summer," and then, in November, it "hired several consultants to help conduct a detailed inspection including an engineering assessment and financial analysis."
The statement does not cite a specific dollar amount. Yet it mentions that the possible purchase price will be "lower than Queen Creek's purchase of H2O water company earlier this year, based on a per connection cost."
In November, Queen Creek bought the much-smaller utility H2O, Inc. for $44 million, according to various news reports.
When Florence looked into buying Johnson Utilities in 2007, the local Florence Reminder & Blade-Tribune newspaper reported that the town council okayed a letter of intent to purchase with a tentative price "of $192 million over 30 years."
Asked about the purchase price currently being discussed, town spokesman Jess Knudson said the dollar amount was not being released.
"The purchase price is not public information at this time," Knudson said via e-mail. "Releasing this information would greatly reduce our ability to negotiate the best deal for our residents."
Knudson invited me to file a public-records request for the info, which I did, along with a request for any recent letter of intent from the town. This was summarily rejected by Town Clerk Lisa Garcia.
"In accordance with Arizona State Statutes," Garcia wrote in an e-mail, "documents and other items that are considered during an executive session discussion are considered confidential and are not disclosed to the public. Such items are not considered public records until such time as council action is taken on the floor."
Which is interesting, considering that at a December 17 meeting of the Arizona Corporation Commission, commissioners and staff, along with a lawyer for Johnson Utilities and an executive of the company, spoke about the potential sale as if it were inevitable.