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