Carolina Water Service proposes another rate hike; meetings set in Lake Wylie

2017-11-29 | Fort Mill Times

Nov. 28--LAKE WYLIE -- As York County continues negotiations with Carolina Water Service to acquire its local system, customers in Lake Wylie could be the ones facing an increased price tag.

The latest water and sewer rate increase proposal is in for Lake Wylie and other York County customers. Carolina Water asked the South Carolina Public Service Commission for new, higher water and sewer rates statewide. The rate request would increase base water costs 15 to 18 percent for residential and commercial customers. The rate charged for every 1,000 gallons of water used would increase 30 percent.

Sewer charges would vary depending on whether the utility treats wastewater or passes it along to a municipal system. Homeowners and commercial users would see increases of 21 to 32 percent.

The public service commission received the rate request Nov. 10. A date for a final issue hasn't been set. Testimony in the case runs through mid-February.

Along with the base and per usage increases, the application asks for a new "utility system improvement rate" so the company could petition the public service commission to cover costs without opening a new rate case each time. The company asks for up to 10 percent of capital investments from the pending decision to be eligible for the new rate.

Also, the company asks that back flow testing for residential customers be required every two years instead of annually. Water meter installation would increase, per the request, from $35 to $45. Carolina Water asks for limited liability for "damages arising out of interruption of service or the failure to furnish service."

According to the increase request, numbers are based on a test year from Sept. 1, 2016, to Aug. 31, 2017. They are needed, the company says, to provide "reasonable and adequate service" to customers, meet state health department standards, cover costs, "earn a reasonable return on its investment" and attract capital for future improvements.

A community meeting is 6-7:30 p.m. Dec. 4 at Camp Thunderbird in Lake Wylie. That's the same date and time York County Council has its regular December meeting. Councilwoman Allison Love, who represents Lake Wylie, said she is disappointed the utility would host a meeting when she and other county leaders can't be there, especially since the county and utility have been in discussions for more than a year about a possible system change.

"A lot of effort has gone into negotiations between York County and Carolina Water Service on behalf of the people in Lake Wylie," Love said. "Their timing for a rate hike request is the most unpopular thing they could do."

The utility has had several rate increases the past decade, some at the full amount requested and some at lesser levels. All of the requests mentioned work to improve the system, something Lake Wylie and other residents argue in case hearings isn't happening. Love said she would like to know what the utility has to say in making its case this time.

"I am interested in hearing specifically what they have done to improve the water system and what investment they have made in infrastructure in Lake Wylie," she said. "I believe the request for an increase is unwarranted."

Love and county management will hold their own public meeting 8:45-10 a.m. Dec. 2, ahead of the Carolina Water meeting, at the Bethel Volunteer Fire Department on Oakridge Road in Lake Wylie. Love wants to get feedback from customers as negotiations continue. She posted on social media that after almost a year of discussion, "a new agreement is expected" by the end of the year.

High rates and service quality have been concerns for years in Lake Wylie. Numerous public officials have spoken out against the company in public settings, including the rate change hearings. Last year a swell of residents and public officials called for change as a decades-long franchise agreement between the county and utility was coming due. It was set to expire early last year, but the parties signed a six-month extension through Aug. 17 to continue negotiations. In June, the parties agreed to another six-month extension, through Feb. 17, 2018.

York County isn't the only municipality looking at possible changes with the utility. On Oct. 9, the town of Lexington notified Carolina Water that the wastewater service territory there would be condemned. The I-20 system there serves about 2,300 customers in 29 subdivisions.

As of February, Carolina Water Service served more than 14,700 water and 12,500 sewer customers in South Carolina. Only Palmetto Utilities and its affiliates serve more.

John Marks: 803-326-4315, @JohnFMTimes