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TEGA CAY --
As Tega Cay Water Service looks to increase rates within the city, residents aren’t leaving any doubt where they stand on the issue.
The company applied to increase residential water rates by 18.54 percent, residential wastewater by 66.9 percent. Patrick Flynn, regional director for parent company Utilities, Inc., described the rate hike last month as “necessary to cover capital costs incurred for improvements in the sewer system and to cover current operating expenses.”
A community forum is set for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Glennon Center to discuss the possible increases for the older section of Tega Cay. But many residents aren’t waiting that long.
“The system has been allowed to depreciate and deteriorate while cash was harvested from the entity,” wrote resident John Sherwood in a letter to the state Public Service Commission. “This method of management should not be rewarded with additional customer funds to bail-out [sic] their failed oversight.”
According to the commission, the company has applied for or given notice that it would apply for six rate adjustments since 1992. The most recent came in 2009. Those earlier increases included public meetings, but never listed more than a couple of citizen “protestants” on the official docket.
As of early press time Friday, the current proposal listed 138. Many on behalf of couples protesting together.
A letter of protest from Councilwoman Dottie Hersey is one on file. She describes being “outraged” at the proposal for a utility that’s “done little to improve the system for years.” Hersey argues that the last rate increase should’ve been sufficient for the needed improvements.
“Since they were previously granted an increase to improve infrastructure in 2010 in the amount of 18 percent,” she wrote, “this should have provided adequate funding to recoup their cost for repairs.”
Complaints range from poor service to bad business models to something even simpler.
“Rates are already very high,” wrote resident Suzane Lyons.
Steve Kunzmann wrote of a repair he witnessed that “would not fly with any type of inspection.”
“We have expensive Band-Aids put on our sewer and water system,” he wrote.
Albert Stebbins wanted to know why rates in his area were “substantially more” than Fort Mill or even other parts of Tega Cay already, and believes the company “should not profit from any wasteful or inefficient operations.”
Ateaka Wiley wrote that “bills are already twice as high as any city I know of,” calling the company a “monopoly.”
“I am retired on a fixed income and this will be an unbearable hardship,” Wiley wrote.
While resident dissent on a water rate proposal may not be shocking, it could be impactful. There is precedent that community involvement can sway commissioners in a rate increase decision, and it’s recent.
Fellow Utilities, Inc. subsidiary Carolina Water Service, which serves Lake Wylie, applied for an 80 percent increase last year. When the commission denied that request in the fall with a 5-2 vote, a main reason offered was the “particularly compelling” customer testimony.
“We heard from witnesses who reported myriad customer service problems, including irregular and inaccurate billing, unwarranted disconnection of service, sewer system overflows, water service disruptions and frequent boil-water advisories and poor water quality,” read the decision.
Some Tega Cay residents have been meeting since the last rate increase decision in their city to continue monitoring and other activities that might help in the event of another adjustment by the company. Now they’re hoping others will join them.
“We feel this company should use the money plus interest received in the last three rate increases to pay for any maintenance and updating that has finally been initiated,” wrote group member Linda Stevenson. “We get lots of promises but little action.”