WILLIAMSON – The Public Service Commission held the first of two public comment hearings concerning Williamson’s water and sewer rates at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26 on the Second Floor of Williamson’s Fire House.
Keith A. George, Chief Administrative Law Judge, opened the hearing stating, “I had originally intended this meeting to be both an evidentiary hearing and a public comment hearing. The parties moved earlier this week to delay the evidentiary part of the hearing and the commission (PSC) tolled the statutory deadline and extended the decision due date. Yesterday, I granted a motion to cancel the evidentiary portion of the hearing. However, we are going to continue with the public comment hearing. Immediately following this public comment hearing which is on the sewer case, we will have a similar hearing on the water case. We also have public comment hearings set for 6 p.m. for both the sewer and water cases. “
The Procedural Order mentioned by George was issued on Monday, Jan. 25. The Procedural Order states, “This order cancels the evidentiary portions of the hearings and releases the obligation of the attorneys to appear at the public comment hearing.”
The Procedural Order continued stating, “On Jan. 22, the City of Williamson moved to toll the statutory deadline and extend the decision due date… The City of Williamson further requested that the parties be excused from having attorneys appear at the public comment hearings.”
George continued the hearing stating, “At this point, I am going to identify the parties in the room.”
The first to be identified was the City of Williamson. Mayor Robert Carlton spoke up stating that he was the Mayor and Chairman of the Utility Board. Several Williamson Utility Board members and Williamson Council members were also present at the meeting.
The next to be identified was Linda Bouvette, Staff Attorney for the PSC.
Three parties were granted intervention to be parties to the proceedings. These included representatives from the public as well as the Mountain Water District and the Mingo County Public Service District (PSD).
Shawn Williamson, was identified by George. “You have not yet been made a party to the proceeding. Would you like to be a party to the proceeding?” George questioned. Williamson responded that he would. “Mr. Williamson, you are now a party to the proceeding. When we get to the evidentiary part, you will have the opportunity to question witnesses like the other parties and file documents,” George explained.
On behalf of the Mountain Water District, Roy Sawyers as Administrator and Dan Stratton as General Council were granted intervention.
J. B. Heflin, General Manager for Mingo County PSD, was also granted intervention.
George continued the hearing stating, “The Utility filed an ordinance to increase the sewer rates on Aug. 17. I understand that the ordinance increased the sewer rates by 26.3 percent. Staff of the Public Service Commission acts just like any other party in the proceeding has done a review of the books and records of the sewer utility and made a recommendation. Like I said, it is just a recommendation to the Commission (PSC). It doesn’t mean that it will be adopted by the Commission. I understand that the reason the parties sought a delay in the evidentiary portion of the hearing is that they believe that there may be some need to examine some more information regarding the books and records and maybe do some negotiations with the various parties.”
George then allowed Bouvette to explain the recommendation concerning sewer rates. Bouvette explained that the sewer recommendation was a decrease of current rates by 14.99 percent. “That would be in effect for 24 months. The purpose of the 24 months is to establish a fund under Senate Bill 234. Senate Bill 234 was passed last year by the Legislature and requires public service districts and municipalities to establish a cash working capital fund equal to one eighth of the operating expenditures of the district of the municipality. The Commission recommended that it take a two year period to build up that cash working capital fund. That is why our recommended rates for step one will go on for 24 months. At the end of the 24 months, step two would take effect and that would be a decrease of 25.4 percent of the current rates. That would stay in effect until the city passes a new ordinance changing the rates,” Bouvette explained.
Bouvette continued explaining what the rates would represent in dollar amounts. “To give you an idea of what that would represent in dollars: the first two thousand gallons used per month would be $7.40 per thousand gallons. All over 2,000 gallons used per month would be $5.97 per month with a minimum charge of $22.38 per month based on 3,000 gallons of water used. If you don’t have a metered account, you would have a flat fee of $31.33 based on 4,500 gallons per month. Mingo County PSD would have a resell rate of $1.87 per thousand. Mountain Water District would have $2.67 per thousand. We have a leak adjustment rate of .51 cents per thousand gallons. Those are staff recommendations,” Bouvette stated.
George stated, “That is available to look at on the Commission’s (PSC) website. You can look at the entire staff report as well as the entire file. Again, as both I indicated and Mrs. Bouvette indicated, that is merely the staff recommendation and that does not mean that is what the commission will adopt. The commission will consider the evidence of all parties.”
The hearing was then available for public comment concerning the sewer case. No public comment was made at that time.
The public comment hearing for water rates began immediately following the adjournment of the public hearing concerning sewer rates. George opened the meeting explaining that the evidentiary meeting had been canceled for that meeting and explained that the public comment portion of that meeting would continue as planned. George again identified the concerned parties in the room and granted intervenor status as needed. These included previously mentioned representatives for the City of Williamson, Shawn Williamson, Mountain Water District, and the Mingo County PSD.
At that time, George allowed Bouvette to share the staff recommendations concerning water rates. Bouvette said, “The staff recommends an increase of 11.04 percent over current rates. That would be for step one which would last for a 24 month period. As I mentioned in the sewer case, Senate Bill 234 which was passed in the Legislature last year requires utilities like public service districts and municipalities to establish a cash working capital fund equal to one eighth of the operating expenses of the utility. In its effort to establish that fund for the municipality, is recommending that the step one rates be in effect for a 24 month period. At the end of that 24 month period, staff recommends rates decrease 2.54 percent less than the step one rates. That would continue on until there is another rate increase by ordinance of the city. We also recommend of a leak adjustment of 60 cents per thousand gallons.”
Bouvette continued, explaining what the recommended rates would mean in dollar amounts for customers. “Minimum bill for a five eighth inch meter would be $24.00 a month. A three quarter inch meter would be $36.00 a month. A non-metered water supply with the equivalence of 4,500 gallons of water used each would be $35.00. The resell rates for Mountain Water District would be $1.93 per thousand and for Mingo County PSD would be $1.93 per thousand,” Bouvette explained.
The hearing was then opened for public comment. No one offered public comment at that time.
George concluded the meeting stating, “There appears to be no public comment. Again, we will have a public comment hearing beginning at 6 p.m. at this same location. Thank you for your participation this morning. The hearing is adjourned.”
(Courtney Pigman is a news reporter for the Williamson Daily News. She can be contacted at [email protected], or at 304-235-4242 ext. 2279.)