LAKE WYLIE — More than 50 people turned out Thursday night to oppose a Carolina Water Service rate increase request, many of them lining up to give testimony against the company.
“That will work a hardship on a lot of families in this area,” state Sen. Wes Hayes said of the 25 percent increase.
Hayes and others addressed the state Public Service Commission in the only Lake Wylie meeting in the rate case. He said the system in Lake Wylie already is 37 percent higher than the average of eight nearby water utilities, and would be 51 percent higher if granted the increase. Carolina Water would be 35 percent higher than the next highest district, he said.
John Gauci moved to Lake Wylie almost five years ago, and said he “probably would not be standing here tonight” had he known water cost six or more times here than in New York where he lived. Other residents also said rates here are higher than other areas where they have lived, even deserts.
Ken Bozeman owns Plantation Square. In recent years he moved to Isle of Palms where residents hear about having the most expensive water rates in the state.
“It’s so much cheaper than this you wouldn’t believe it,” he told the commission.
Bozeman said 60 to 80 percent of the money he spends on his water bill is for collection fees and the company can charge, for instance, for 40 gallons per day for a vending machine. Small restaurants are being well overcharged, he said.
“It’s going to impact every business out here,” he said.
Residents also talked about poor service and outdated infrastructure. Susan Gauff moved here seven years ago and about once a year has an unusually high bill she can’t attribute to changes in water use.
“I constantly have billing problems with the service,” she said.
Bill Morris bought a house in 2011 but didn’t move in full-time until the following year. His first bill was for $189 when the house was empty, he said. He’s had more than $2,000 in bills in 20 months and didn’t get service when he had poor water pressure issues, he said.
“I am more than willing to pay for good service,” he said, “but all I’m getting is lip service.”
Residents argued business, home sales and other development already are impacted by steep rates. They say the Lake Wylie area is subsidizing less profitable parts of the Carolina Water Service system statewide. They say the “reasonable return on investment” called for in the company’s request shouldn’t be anywhere near 25 percent.
Two years ago the company asked for but was denied an 80 percent increase. Mike Lloyd wondered how the company could justify needing that money then, not get it and come right back asking for 25 percent.
“There’s something wrong with that math,” he said.
Residents will have a while to find out if their complaints have an impact in the case. A merit hearing in Columbia is scheduled Jan. 14, with a commission decision expected after.