TEGA CAY — The price of water in parts of Tega Cay could be on the rise.
Tega Cay Water Service, which provides water to some of the older sections of Tega Cay, announced last week that the company applied for a rate increase with the state Public Service Commission. The company last applied for and received a rate increase in 2010.
“Tega Cay Water Service understands that no one likes rate increases, certainly not in the difficult economic times we have experienced; however, the rate increase is necessary to cover capital costs incurred for improvements in the sewer system and to cover current operating expenses,” said Patrick Flynn, regional director for parent company Utilities, Inc.
Water and wastewater services will be impacted. The proposal would increase residential water rates by 18.54 percent and residential wastewater by 66.9 percent, for a combined 43.98 percent jump. The main reason for the request, Flynn said, is an upgrade to wastewater treatment systems in the city resulting in “a significant reduction in sewer related issues and no overflows or discharges that have reached Lake Wylie in over 18 months.”
More than $2 million was spent improving or replacing pumps, control panels, motors and other equipment as well as remodeling four sewer lift stations.
According to the company, the average Tega Cay home will see a difference of “less than a penny per gallon” at the faucet. The average water bill will be just under $42 a month, the average wastewater bill about $65 per month.
Linda Stevenson is one of many residents who formed a group to work with the utility during its last rate increase. Those residents continue to meet, and are “getting our ducks in a row” to discuss the latest proposal. Stevenson said that improvements have been made, but that past rate increases with little result in improved service mean she can’t support another increase.
“We have put up with spills in the lake for all of these years without any improvement until the people of Tega Cay raised their protest,” she said. “Yes, they are finally trying to improve the system, which we have already paid for many times over.”
Lift stations have been improved and pipes cleaned, but Stevenson contends that work since the last rate increase is what the company “should have been doing all along.”
“We are not willing or able to see another rate hike and pay for the improvements twice,” she said.
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation has a Covekeeper program on Lake Wylie, monitoring and reporting water-quality concerns like sewage spills and sedimentation. It’s leader, Ellen Goff, said Tega Cay Water Service has made improvements since a rash of spills in late 2010 and early 2011.
“The treatment system is much better and they have upgraded the pipes and pumping stations,” she said. “I don’t know why the utility was allowed, by the city and (the state health department), to have such a poor service record before they made those improvements.”
Goff said the cost of infrastructure upgrades should be “distributed fairly and equitably.” Her main concern is that untreated wastewater isn’t as prevalent a threat to the lake as it was in Tega Cay. But she understands Tega Cay residents questioning the latest increase.
“That’s what they are supposed to be doing as part of the service they provide,” Goff said of protecting the lake. “Should a hospital be able to raise their fees when a patient is discharged without an infection, or a highway charge drivers a toll because a bridge didn’t collapse?”
Flynn cited a total of more than $2.0 million in improvements or replacements involving pumps, control panels, motors and instrumentation equipment as well as the complete refurbishment of four sewer lift stations.
“We are very pleased with the outcome of all of this effort and expenditure. It has been a very complex and multifaceted program designed to address customer concerns, substantially reduce the nutrient impact on Lake Wylie and keep us well below compliance limits,” Flynn said.
Tega Cay Water Service is a sister company of Carolina Water Service, which was denied an 80 percent increase by the commission last fall. That company claimed $10 million in system improvements since its most recent rate hike. Public testimony to sewage overflows, poor water quality and other complaints led to the denied request.
As with other rate increase proposals, the public will be allowed to comment and provide testimony prior to a decision. In its request, Tega Cay Water Service recommended a community forum. Specifics on such a forum haven’t been announced.