WILLIAMSON – The Public Service Commission (PSC) released a recommended decision Tuesday, Sept. 29, to dismiss the citizens’ of Williamson request to halt the proposed sewer rate increase due to a lack of required signatures.
The recommended decision is to dismiss a portion of the petition filed requesting a halt to a water and sewer rate increase for customers in the city of Williamson. The portion the PSC recommends being dismissed, concerns sewer rates only.
The PSC document list dates that actions were taken concerning the sewer rate increase and argues that the petition filed by the citizens of Williamson was actually composed of two separate petitions due to the way the petitions have been worded.
In the document, the PSC states that, “On Sept. 8, 2015 the Commission (PSC) received a petition challenging the Utility’s sewer rates.”
The document continues saying, “On Sept. 14, 2015, Staff moved to dismiss the municipal appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Staff argued that a close examination of the petition shows that it is actually two petitions with only one of the two petitions protesting the sewer rates. Staff counted the signatures on the petition specifically protesting the sewer rates and concluded that it was signed by approximately 160 customers and that 324 signatures were needed to create Commission(PSC) jurisdiction over the sewer rates.”
“By Procedural Order Issued Sept. 17, 2015, the Utility and Shawn Williamson were provided ten days to file any response to the Staff Motion to Dismiss.”
“On Sept. 23, 2015, Mr. Williamson filed a document arguing that the Commission (PSC) has jurisdiction. Mr. Williamson argued that it was the clear intention of the signers of the petition to protest both the water and sewer rates. He further argues that the petitions are somewhat ambiguous and that it would be grossly unjust if a wording problem on a petition circulated by a community group would defeat Commission review of the sewer rates and deny the customers the rights to a hearing. Mr. Williamson pointed out various places on both petitions where the word sewer appeared.”
On behalf of the citizens of Williamson, Shawn Williamson responded to the PSC recommendation to dismiss. The documented response to the PSC motion to dismiss argues five key points.
The first point states that, “It was and is the clear intention of the customers of Williamson Water and Sewer to protest the increase adopted on Aug. 17, 2015, in both the water and sewer rates.”
The second point argues that, “A community protest is like a living organism with many parts. On Aug. 17, when the protest began, more than one customer had drafted a petition for others to sign. The customers decided to put the petitions together and send them in as one. The cover letter sent with the signatures on Sept. 4, 2015 clearly refers to one ‘petition’ signed by ‘customers of Williamson Water and Sewer,” and the mailing contained all the signatures collected together.”
Williamson’s third point states that, “Both versions of the petition refer to water and sewer. One petition clearly instructs customers to sign only if they are customers of Williamson Water and Sewer. Both petitions stress the undue burden the rate increases will have on customers.”
The fourth point argues that, “nearly 1000 customers of Williamson Water and Sewer placed their signatures on a petition, including the current Mayor Pro Tem’s wife and at least one city councilperson. It would be grossly unjust if a mere wording error by an unsophisticated community group is allowed to be used by the PSC to deny these customers their due process rights to a fair hearing.”
Finally, the last point Williamson argues states, “Further, more than one government body has found the situation at Williamson Water and Sewer/ Williamson Utility Board to reach such a level of unaccountability that investigation have been requested and in at least one case, begun.”
The document ends saying, “For the reasons stated above the petitioners ask that the Staff’s Motion to Dismiss be denied.”
On Wednesday, newly appointed Mayor of the City of Williamson, Robert Carlton released the following statement, “It is the position of the mayor, council, and the utilities board that the petition of the citizens of the city of Williamson before the Public Service Commission be heard in its entirety. This morning, an order was entered by the PSC dismissing a portion of the citizens’ paperwork over the sewer rate increase. Counsel for the City of Williamson Utilities Board will be filing paperwork requesting that the decision be reconsidered and the entire petition for review be heard at the PSC so the citizens of Williamson may have full participation in this process.”
At the last Williamson Utility Board Meeting, Jerry Hurley, a member of the Williamson Utility Board addressed the issue of increasing the sewer rate.
“There was the recommendation that we could still impose a sewage rate increase effective Oct. 1. Under the circumstances, we are not moving forward with the increase of the sewer rates. The PSC is looking at this and it is in their hands,” Hurley said.
While the Motion to Dismiss does impact the sewer rates, the water rate increase has been halted until Jan. 1. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Dec. 3 2015.
(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.)