PROTEST OVER RATE IN­CREASE

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY CASSIE COPE ccope@char­lot­teob­server.com Cassie Cope: 704-358-5926, @cassiel­cope

Carolina Wa­ter Ser­vice wants to raise wa­ter and sewer bills on about 51,000 N.C. cus­tomers.

Wear­ing red shirts in sol­i­dar­ity, about 40 res­i­dents of a Meck­len­burg County neigh­bor­hood packed a re­cent pub­lic hear­ing to fight an in­crease to their wa­ter and sewer bills.

The neigh­bors al­ready saw those bills in­crease by about 56 per­cent last year. And the util­ity — Carolina Wa­ter Ser­vice of North Carolina — wants to hike their bills again by an­other 33 per­cent.

“We to­tally op­pose this in­crease,” said Bill Colyer, a board mem­ber of the Brad­field Farms Home­own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion.

Those neigh­bors went from pay­ing an av­er­age of $43 a month for wa­ter and sewer last year to $67, ac­cord­ing to the util­ity. Their bills would jump to $89 un­der the lat­est pro­posal.

Carolina Wa­ter Ser­vice, which has about 51,000 cus­tomers spread out across North Carolina, says the higher bills would help pay for a more than $8 mil­lion cap­i­tal in­vest­ment pro­gram.

That in­cludes im­prove­ments to in­fra­struc­ture, such as me­ters, hy­drants, wa­ter mains, sewer mains and treat­ment plants.

“Our in­vest­ments in lo­cal wa­ter in­fra­struc­ture will help to en­sure con­tin­ued wa­ter qual­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity to­day and for many years to come,” said spokes­woman Deb­o­rah Clark.

Of about 120 reg­u­lated wa­ter and sewer com­pa­nies in North Carolina, about two dozen re­quested to in­crease bills on their tens of thou­sands of cus­tomers over a re­cent five-year pe­riod, an Ob­server re­view of state records shows.

In most of those cases, the ma­jor­ity were ap­proved by state reg­u­la­tors at a lower amount than re­quested.

Carolina Wa­ter Ser­vice has pro­posed in­creas­ing av­er­age wa­ter bills for Brad­field Farms neigh­bors to about $38 and waste­water bills to about $51, or a com­bined $89, ac­cord­ing to the util­ity. That’s a $22 in­crease from last year and an in­crease of $46 from the year be­fore.

The neigh­bor­hood is 17 miles east of up­town Char­lotte and has 967 homes.

The home­owner’s as­so­ci­a­tion board passed a res­o­lu­tion ob­ject­ing to an­other in­crease say­ing the hikes are “un­fair and un­rea­son­able.” The as­so­ci­a­tion urged the N.C. Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion, which ap­proves or re­jects rate in­creases, “to deny, or at least limit,” the pro­posed hike.

A re­duced rate in­crease is likely, based on sim­i­lar cases in the past, said David Drooz, chief coun­sel for Pub­lic Staff, a state

THE NEIGH­BORS AL­READY SAW THOSE BILLS IN­CREASE BY ABOUT 56 PER­CENT LAST YEAR. AND THE UTIL­ITY – CAROLINA WA­TER SER­VICE OF NORTH CAROLINA – WANTS TO HIKE THEIR BILLS AGAIN BY AN­OTHER 33 PER­CENT.

agency that rep­re­sents ratepay­ers in util­ity cases.

Roughly two dozen N.C. reg­u­lated util­i­ties sub­mit­ted about 45 re­quests to raise either wa­ter or sewer bills or both from 2012 to last year, ac­cord­ing to Pub­lic Staff data.

In 30 in­stances, the Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion ap­proved a rate in­crease for wa­ter or sewer bills, but at a lower amount than what the util­ity pro­posed.

An­other dozen re­quests were ap­proved as the util­ity orig­i­nally re­quested. Only two re­sulted in an in­crease over the amount re­quested.

“If a util­ity ne­glects to ask for rates that are suf­fi­cient to pay for its costs, there is a risk that it will not be able to main­tain an ad­e­quate level of ser­vice to cus­tomers, and could even go out of busi­ness,” Drooz said.

In the Carolina Wa­ter Ser­vice case, N.C. Pub­lic Staff will sub­mit pro­posed or­ders for the Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion to con­sider by mid-No­vem­ber.

“Un­der the law, we’re to rep­re­sent the in­ter­est of con­sumers, North Carolina ratepay­ers,” said Pub­lic Staff at­tor­ney Gina Holt.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Josh Stein’s Of­fice will also make sure ratepay­ers’ voices are heard, said Stein’s spokes­woman Laura Brewer.

Carolina Wa­ter Ser­vice will also sub­mit a pro­posed or­der.

Typ­i­cally, the amount the Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion ap­proves is worked out as a set­tle­ment be­tween Pub­lic Staff and the util­ity, Drooz said.

Brad­field Farms neigh­bors Deb­o­rah Atkin­son, a re­tired N.C. state em­ployee, told the Ob­server any in­crease in wa­ter and sewer bills will af­fect her bud­get.

She also tes­ti­fied at the Meck­len­burg hear­ing, op­pos­ing the pro­posed rate hike.

“Some­thing else in my house­hold is go­ing to have to suf­fer.”

CASSIE COPE ccope@char­lot­teob­server.com

Brad­field Farms res­i­dents packed a re­cent Meck­len­burg County hear­ing, fight­ing an in­crease to their wa­ter and sewer bills.

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