CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Public meetings in connection with a proposed rate increase from West Virginia American Water are scheduled to start Tuesday evening.

The public hearings, hosted by the state Public Service Commission, will focus on West Virginia American Water Company’s request to raise rates by 19.7 percent.

Five public meetings are scheduled. The first are set for Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. at the Days Inn Hotel in Flatwoods and the National Guard Armory in Bluefield.

WVAWC says if the increase is approved the average monthly water bill would go up from the current $39 to $47. The increase would begin in Oct. and extend to 171,000 WVAWC customers.

“The main driver in his request is approximately 85 million dollars worth of system improvements the company has made since 2009,” said West Virginia American spokesperson Laura Jordan.

Jordan said West Virginia’s utility rates are based on the level of investment a company has made. Rates are adjusted after the fact to help companies recover the cost of the initial investment.

“Although they’re not popular, these are necessary improvements that had to be made to keep providing customers with reliable and quality water service,” Jordan said. “With that investment comes the need for customers to kick in a little bit more to cover those investments and investments down the road.”

Not everybody agrees with the level of the increase. West Virginia AARP is among those who are questioning the size of the jump.

“We understand utilities with the investments that are required in infrastructure have to generate a profit to continue to insure West Virginians have a reliable water service,” said Tom Hunter of AARP West Virginia. “I think the things we question in the increase are why such a large amount?”

Hunter said for the people he represents even a small increase is a huge hit. Many of the state’s elderly live on retirement and fixed incomes and the slightest increase has a major impact on the household budget.

West Virginia American Water rates will have increased nearly 50 percent over the past five years, if the PSC approves the latest rate hike request.

Subsequent public hearings are in Charleston on June 17 at the PSC offices, Huntington June 18 at the Pullman Plaza Hotel and Fayetteville June 19 at the Fayette County Memorial Building. All meeting begin at 6:30 p.m.

The PSC has five days set aside for its evidentiary hearing on the rate case, July 8-12.

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