CHARLESTON, W.Va. —West Virginia American Water Company customers in the Charleston area got their chance Monday to speak out against a proposed 20-percent rate hike.
“At a time like this, when the economy is so bad and people are struggling so much, it’s just unconscionable for them to ask for a 20-percent increase,” said South Charleston resident Pamela Lowry.
Lowry was among several customers who came out for the third of a series of five public hearings being held throughout the state hosted by the West Virginia Public Service Commission regarding the rate increase.
“It comes at a time right now when people already have to choose between food and medicines, and now we are going to have to start juggling utilities too,” said Lowry. “It’s just not right.”
The hearings have given the water utility chances to hear what customers think about the increase, which would raise the average residential bill (3,315 gallons) from $39.11 to $47.24.
Most customers want “the PSC to take a good hard look at the case and make sure that the requests that the company is making are valid and fair,” said Laura Jordan, WVAWC’s external affairs manager.
The water company has cited increased levels of plant investment, rate of return, operating expenses and lower customer usage as the reasons for passing along $24 million in charges to customers.
Lowry said aging infrastructure is not a good excuse to justify the rate increase.
“This just didn’t happen overnight,” Lowry said. “Any responsible person knows that you have to keep up your repairs on your home — you don’t wait till it’s falling down around your neck to start worrying about fixing it.”
The PSC has two more public hearings scheduled: one in Huntington on Tuesday night and another in Fayetteville Wednesday night.
Jordan said the water company anticipated the rate hike to be unpopular.
“There is never going to be a good time to do it, but what we try to help our customers understand is that the longer you defer costs, the longer you defer maintenance, the more it will cost them further down the road,” Jordan said. “We are looking for a very fair recovery of the investments that we’ve already made.”