CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The last public hearing on West Virginia American Water Company’s request for a 28 percent rate hike on its customers in Charleston Monday night saw a much higher turnout than any of the previous eight meetings.
With the evidentiary hearing beginning Tuesday morning, many residents came to the hearing to express their disapproval with the potential high increase.
“If they were putting it into the infrastructure, that would be reasonable,” said Paul Dalzell with Advocates for a Safe Water System. “But they’re not. They’re maintaining the same amount that they have over the years. It’s a 400 year replacement schedule that they’re on right now.”
WVAWC Spokesperson Laura Jordan defended the increase, saying that the $35.5 million that the hike would generate is based on repairs already made.
“Our rate request is based on the capital investment we’ve made since 2012, which is the year that our rates are currently based on,” she explained. “By the time new rates go into effect we will have invested $150 billion dollars in system improvements without any recovery on those investments. This our request to have appropriate recovery for the investments we’ve already made in the system.”
Charleston Councilwoman Karan Ireland didn’t think the utility had done an efficient enough job with many of its duties.
“Continuous service; they’re not doing their job there. Adequate service; they’re not doing their job there. Potable water; they’re not always doing their job there. And it’s a real problem,” said Ireland.
Residents were given five minutes to state their piece at the hearing. Many advocated for a new water company to compete with WVAWC. Norris Litton, a senior citizen, said the increase would be particularly hard on him and others on a fixed income.
“This water company has let us down in their consistent delivery of the product. They’re trying to dump their improvements down on the public,” he said. “No one can afford these kind of increases, especially not senior citizens who aren’t going to get an increase on their cost of living or social security this year.”
Tommy Graley was disappointed that, in his mind, the utility is now trying to make up for lack of maintenance over the years. After speaking passionately at the hearing, he said he doesn’t want to see any rate hike.
“No raise. Go get you some bonds, sell your bonds and pay a payment. Plain and simple,” Graley said. “Or get you some infrastructure money. But not us. We (customers) should not pay not one more penny.”
Jordan said that WVAWC plans to present specific numbers to the PSC at the evidentiary hearing to prove the rate is justified.
“What we have to do as a utility is show all of the financial data to our regulators. We open up our books; we provide them all of the information on what it has cost us to provide this service,” she said. “The Public Service Commission has to look through that and determine whether they agree with our deduction of what the true cost of providing service is, and that is how they set their rates.”
Many residents also were still unhappy about a water outage over the summer that affected about 20,000 customers in Dunbar, which saw the same water main break three times. Teresa Burdette, who lives on Charleston’s East End, said her water doesn’t taste clean.
“You can taste the chlorine in the water. It’s too much; it’s almost like drinking bleach, and it smells. You know certain days they flush the lines, and it backs into your system.”
Two public hearings were previously held in Weston, Huntington, Fayetteville and Princeton before Monday night’s final hearing in the Capital City.