Local water users protest W.Va. PSC recommendation

September 05, 2008|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- U.S. Silica Co.'s appeal to the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) protesting a flat water rate was heard Wednesday, and members of the public showed up to protest a recommended rate increase alternative.

Several local water customers attended the hearing and spoke against the PSC recommendation to increase the water rates instead of allowing the flat water rate that was proposed and passed a few months ago by the Bath Town Council.

The flat rate of $8.77 per 1,000 gallons for the first 6,000 gallons would benefit smaller users, but would cost larger users a substantial increase.

U.S. Silica, the largest water user of Berkeley Springs Water Works, the town-owned water department, filed an appeal with the PSC claiming discrimination.


Last week, the PSC sent a recommendation to the Town of Bath that an increase in the current rate structure be adopted. The council met last Friday and voted 3-2 to accept the recommendation.

Jim Slough, who represented town water customers at the hearing, said the council should have waited until the appeal was heard before accepting the higher water rate proposal.

Councilman David Crosby, who chairs the town's finance committee, spoke against the PSC rates. He said the reason the town wanted a flat rate was because of the "serious inequity in the price structure."

Councilman Ryan Rebant said a lot of time was spent studying the flat rate and he agreed with Crosby.

"This new declining block rate stresses the average customer too much," Rebant said.

Residents Lori Higgs, Lisa Webster and Vickie Phillips protested the PSC's recommended rates.

"The rate is already too high and I won't be able to pay the increase," Higgs said.

Crosby said at Tuesday night's council meeting that the average household uses about 13,500 gallons per quarter. The current bill of $112.13 would jump to $153.60, a 37 percent increase, with the PSC's recommended rates.

U.S. Silica uses about 4 million gallons of water each quarter. The new rate is about $2.80 per 1,000 gallons, whereas the small users at 6,000 gallons for the three-month period will pay $13.45 per 1,000 gallons, Crosby said.

"They will be paying less than 20 percent less than the smallest user will pay," Crosby said. "I think that's outrageous."

A decision will be made Sept. 22, when the ruling is due, said Judge John Carter, the administrative law judge for the PSC.

Water department billing is scrutinized


BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- In addition to the increased water rate recommendation by the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC), Wednesday's hearing included a discussion of the Berkeley Springs Water Works billing system.

PSC employee Bobbie Boston, a utilities analyst with the Water Waste Division, said by using PSC procedures, which are not in writing, the water department overcharged 49 large-meter water customers who used more than 6,000 gallons per quarter. The overcharge is about $161,000 and occurred between January 2005 and August.

Boston said it appears the problem began when the town changed its billing software.

Councilman David Crosby, the town's finance chair, said he thought the calculations were done correctly. He said the way the town interprets the rate structure is different than the way the PSC calculates it.

Crosby said the rate structure that went into effect in January 2006, which was accepted by the PSC, was not interpreted incorrectly by the town.

No complaints were made by the larger water users, including U.S. Silica Co., Crosby said.

Town attorney Richard Gay said to Boston, "There is no publication the PSC staff uses. There is nothing the PSC has published to help calculate the rates," and Boston agreed.

A decision will be made Sept. 22 by the PSC administrative law judge.

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