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Big rate increases, water companies draw concerns in Jefferson County

September 16, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - An attorney representing the Gap View Village subdivision raised concerns Monday during a hearing about water rate increases being proposed by a private water utility company serving about 2,100 customers in Jefferson County.

While the rate increases are proposed by Jefferson Utilities Inc., one of the issues being explored in the case is the company's relationship with Snyder Environmental Services.

Both companies are owned by Lee Snyder.

While Jefferson Utilities is claiming to be operating at a loss, Snyder Environmental Services does $14 million worth of work a year, a Gap View Village resident recently told the Jefferson County Commission.

Issues over the proposed rate increases were being hashed out in a hearing Monday morning before the state Public Service Commission at the Quality Inn along U.S. 340 near Harpers Ferry.

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The public service commission controls utility rates in the state.

Attorney Tom Michael, who is representing the Gap View Village homeowners association, argued during Monday's hearing that the rate increases proposed by Jefferson Utilities should not go forward until the profits of Snyder Environmental Services are determined.

Michael expressed frustration over several issues, including a settlement that had been worked out between Jefferson Utilities and the PSC on the rate increases.

Michael said his clients did not know about the settlement.

"There's a lot that I don't like about how this process has been presented," Michael said.

Jefferson Utilities requested rate hikes that would have given them an additional $700,000 a year, said Dan McDonald, an attorney for Jefferson Utilities.

The PSC later agreed to a rate increase that would give Jefferson Utilities $82,500 a year, McDonald said.

Jefferson Utilities took issue with that agreement and a settlement was reached between the PSC and Jefferson Utilities that would allow rate increases worth about $180,000 in additional annual revenue, McDonald said.

Snyder was at Monday's hearing and said during a break that the PSC has viewed his company's operations as "honest and fair."

Snyder said he has been "much maligned" by critics.

The rates that Jefferson Utilities charges do not compare favorably with national averages, Peter Appignani, a Gap View Village resident, said previously.

The federal government estimates the average family in the U.S. pays about $2 for every 1,000 gallons of water, Appignani said.

Residents in the Deerfield development, off W.Va. 480 near Ridge Road in the Shepherdstown area, would have to pay $100 for every 5,000 gallons under one of the proposed surcharges from Jefferson Utilities, Appignani said.

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