Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


May 31, 2013

Rate increase: Public input into water plan vital

Rate increases are nothing new for hard-working families across southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. It seems like every time we turn around, another public utility is increasing its rates. Unfortunately, our paychecks, Social Security checks and retirement benefits are not keeping pace with these annual utility rate hikes.

Often times the decision to raise — and occasionally even lower — our public utility bills are made by the West Virginia Public Service Commission, and the Virginia State Corporation Commission, with limited opportunity for local public input. Many times the only scheduled hearings are in Charleston or Richmond, Va., making it very difficult for citizens in our region to provide vital input — whether pro or con — for such rate increases.

Now another significant case is moving forward. West Virginia American Water Company has proposed a 19.7 percent rate increase, which is currently under review by the West Virginia Public Service Commission. West Virginia American Water serves more than 580,000 customers across the state in 288 different communities, including Mercer and McDowell counties. So a lot of citizens will be impacted by the proposed rate adjustment.

But the good news is that citizens are being afforded a great opportunity to participate in the process at a central location, and to voice their opinions — whether pro or con — on the proposed rate change. The state Public Service Commission is holding the local public hearing on June 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Brushfork National Guard Armory near Bluefield.

If approved, the rate increase would go into effect on Oct. 10, 2013, at the earliest.

Laura Jordan, a spokeswoman with West Virginia American Water, says the increase is necessary to offset the cost of infrastructure improvements to state water systems.

“This current rate request was made to recoup approximately $85 million in infrastructure improvements and system upgrades we have made since 2009,” Jordan told the Daily Telegraph last week. “Right now customers are paying based on how our system was in 2009. Under this rate increase, all rates will increase by the same amount. Customers in Bluefield and Princeton will be paying the same as customers in Charleston, Weston, and everywhere else.”

Members of the South Bluefield Neighborhood Association, who have actively challenged rate increases in our region in recent years, are currently reviewing the rate increase request, and will soon make a decision on whether to become an intervening party in the case, according to Blaine Braithwaite, executive director of the South Bluefield Neighborhood Association.

All citizens — whether they support or oppose such rate increases — should be actively involved in the process. And the way to do that is by attending the June 11 public hearing.  The armory is an ideal location for such a public hearing as it will provide ample space and parking.

We would encourage all concerned citizens to attend the public meeting and allow their voices to be heard.

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