Water rates to rise 33% in Tega Cay

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comFebruary 15, 2013 

— Water rates in Tega Cay will be rising.

The state Public Service Commission reached a unanimous decision in Tega Cay Water Service’s request to raise rates that will bump up water rates by 33 percent, sewer rates by 27 percent. A final document detailing reasons for the decision and when the new rates go into effect won’t be available until Feb. 13.

A directive from the commission shows that all members, except for Commissioner John “Butch” Howard who was absent, voted to approve the increases. Both those numbers were slightly lower than the most recent request from Tega Cay Water.

The service commission also gave itself a five-day extension to issue the final report. Dawn Hipp, director of the division handling the case for the Office of Regulatory Staff, said it would be highly unlikely that the numbers change between the commission issuing its directive and the final document.

“Based on those numbers, it looks like the company will be granted a 33 percent increase in water revenue and a 27 percent increase in sewer revenue,” Hipp said.

A customer who uses 7,000 gallons would now pay $23.13 for water and $39.06 for sewer, Hipp said, compared to the new rates of $30.78 and $49.95 respectively.

Originally, the company applied for increases of 34 percent for water and almost 67 percent for sewer. The final document will further detail the decision, but the directive dated Jan. 30 and posted Friday describes a difficult decision for commissioners on a “vigorously contested case in which we saw an extraordinary level of participation from the ratepayers.”

According to the directive, “We heard, loud and clear, the protests by the ratepayers of the requested rate hike,” reads the document. “We are sympathetic to their arguments that their rates are already comparatively high, and that there have been myriad service problems with the applicant.”

Yet, it continues, the commission was bound to judge the case on its legal merit.

“We also heard objective, quantifiable evidence from the company, verified by the South Carolina Office of Regulatory Staff, demonstrating that the company requires additional revenue [sic] to pay for its operations and past expenditures and to receive a just and reasonable rate of return,” it read.

The case drew more than 680 letters, notes or emails of protest from Tega Cay, many on behalf or multiple people. City leadership opposed the rate increase both collectively and individually. A citizen group petitioned the service commission for months.

The new rates will result in $351,042 in additional revenue for the company. The service commission met for two days in January after hearing from residents in Tega Cay last December. The company asked that much of the public comment taken there be stricken from the record, but the commission declined.

Commissioners in the recent document “remain very troubled” by testimony against the company and “reluctantly adopt” the new rates.

“Our granting of rate relief in this case must not be construed as an expression of satisfaction with the applicant’s operations,” it reads.

The final decision likely will include additional oversight of the company by the Office of Regulatory Staff.

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