Kanawha County Commission to intervene in water rate hike case

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Following the thousands of water outages Kanawha and Putnam County residents experienced last week, the Kanawha County Commission will now have a place at the table to intervene in the West Virginia American Water Company rate hike case, ordered by the state Public Service Commission Friday.

“We’re glad the Public Service Commission granted our motion and we will be there on behalf of our tax paying public,” said commission president Dave Hardy.

The company is seeking a 28 percent increase on its water customers that would result in an additional $35.5 million. If approved, the average residential customer would pay about $11.63 more per month for water.

“It appears some maintenance has been neglected,” Hardy said about last week’s water main breaks in Dunbar. “At the same time, you’re asking the public for double digit increases. It’s a bad combination and, frankly, one that indicates a lot of management issues.”

Hardy said the company’s rate hike far exceeds the rate of inflation, causing a lot of hardships for residents on a fixed income.

“You don’t have a choice when you talk about water and electricity. They’re necessities of life, so it’s very difficult for someone on a fixed income to have to decide to cut back on their electric usage or their water usage,” he said.

WVAWC said the general rate increase would help it pay for $105 million in system improvements that began in 2012 with another $98 million in planned improvements. The company will also be upgrading its distribution system, water treatment facilities, water tanks and pumping stations.

Members of the county commission want to see the facts and figures put forward by the company to justify the rate increase. Commissioner Henry Shores said in a news release Monday the company states that they are entitled to a reasonable rate of return, but customers are entitled to reliable service at a reasonable cost.

“By intervening, we are there to balance the scales and take a hard look at this rate increase request,” said Shores.

West Virginia American Water Company is the largest water utility in West Virginia serving 550,000 residents in more than 30 counties statewide.