By ANNE ELGIN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Once again the Bluefield area leads the state in terms of utility rate increases, a new study has found.
According to a press release from the Consumer Advocate Division of the state Public Service Commission, Bluefield customers are paying the highest rates in the state.
The annual report also found that utility rates increased 1.2 percent in 2013.
Utility rates used in the study are based on the average monthly usage by a residential customer, Jackie Roberts, director of the Consumer Advocate Division, said.
There are a number of reasons why Bluefield area residents pay the highest rate, Blaine Braithewaite, executive director of the South Bluefield Neighborhood Association, said.
“We have lost population, yet the cost of infrastructure has gone up. With fewer people and fewer businesses the rates go up,” Braithewaite said.
The utilities must be made whole. For example, even though the recent chemical spill did not affect Bluefield, the way the law is written means rate payers in Bluefield will be paying for it through their water bill, Braithewaite said.
“It’s a broken system with complex issues. It needs to be reviewed, updated and fixed,” Braithewaite said.
Braithewaite also added the regulatory environment has not kept pace with what utilities should be.
The utilities are charging what it cost them plus operating costs, City Manager Jim Ferguson said.
“The city doesn’t have anything to do with it. But citizens need to go to the public hearings and participate to help bring the cost down,” Ferguson said.
— Contact Anne Elgin at firstname.lastname@example.org