Five organizations are hoping that the state Committee of Consumer Services doesn't have a moving experience anytime soon.

Utah Legislative Watch, AARP of Utah, the Salt Lake Community Action Program, the Crossroads Urban Center and the League of Women Voters are asking the Legislature to let the committee stay put in the Heber M. Wells Building.

The groups want lawmakers to add intent language to an appropriations bill that would reverse the intent language in the 2001 Legislature's HB3. That bill called for the committee to move elsewhere in the Heber M. Wells Building or to another building.

Among the reasons for the five groups' stance are cost and inefficiency.

"This is so offensive," Claire Geddes, a consumer activist with Utah Legislative Watch, said of the move. "At a time when utility rates are so high and in a bad economy, this is just to stifle the committee, to make it tougher for them to do their work."

HB3 called for the move to take place by Jan. 1, but the committee still hasn't made the move as the Department of Commerce continues to investigate options. The Human Services Building, 120 N. 200 West, has been seen as the best available option outside the Heber M. Wells Building, 160 E. 300 South.

Legislators wanted the committee offices moved to somewhere other than the Wells building's fourth floor in order to avoid any inappropriate communication with two of the floor's other occupants: the Utah Public Service Commission and the Division of Public Utilities.

HB3 appropriated $20,000 for the move, but the organizations are saying rent at the Human Services Building would be nearly $44,000 annually.

"Since this money comes from fees charged to utility customers, it's a travesty for legislators to ask customers to spend their own money to further weaken their own representation before the Public Service Commission," Geddes said.

"It's like asking legislators to move their legislative offices out of the Capitol into buildings around the downtown areas and then run up to the Capitol each time they need to take a vote or go to a committee meeting. It's totally unreasonable and a waste of money."

The committee has been located with the commission since 1977, "and there have been no problems with that arrangement," according to Jeff Fox, a utility analyst for the Crossroads Urban Center.

"In this difficult time of a weak economy and tight budgets, why are we spending money to create waste and inefficiency? We should be spending valuable resources to ensure that utility rates for all customers are affordable, especially at a time when we are cutting budgets for some of the most vulnerable populations in our state."

Geddes said having the committee elsewhere in the the Wells building would be fine. "But if you take them across town, you'd spend 30 minutes getting here, and if you do that three times a day, you've wasted any efficiency," she said.

In a news release, the organizations asked the Legislature to "end the vendetta" against the consumer committee, which represents residential, small-business and agricultural customers in utility issues before the commission.

It called the HB3 intent language a "back-door maneuver" to limit the committee's accessibility to the division and commission "on the premise that the committee enjoyed an advantage not available to the utility industry."

The groups now say that Questar and PacifiCorp offices are easy walking distance from the commission's base but that the committee faces a likely move to a distant building.

Committee members have contended for months that the move is not warranted.

Geddes is hoping the public will support the group's cause and let legislators know it.

"It (HB3) was a slap at every consumer in the state, and to ask us to pay for it is another slap," she said.


E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com