Customers speak out against utility rate hikes

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CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — Dozens of people filled the LaBelle Theater in South Charleston for a town hall on utility increases, many of them seniors who say they can’t afford yet another utility increase.

The Kanawha County Commission requested the meeting in an effort to get the legislature involved in stopping the rate hikes.

“I think the big emotion that you got from everyone was frustration,” said Del. Jim Barach (D-Kanawha).

Barach joined other local delegates like Mike Pushkin, Doug Skaff, and Kayla Young to hear from residents about the proposed rate increases.

None were happy.

“I really don’t think they deserve it because they’re not keeping up with the service they’re supposed to give people now,” said Lash McGhee.

“Everybody’s leaving because the prices are going up so high, we can’t afford them, so you keep somebody that’s on a fixed budget — what do you do? you eat, pay gas, or electric or water,” said Diana Arden.

West Virginia American Water has filed a request with the West Virginia Public Service Commission for a 26% increase in water rates in addition to a 31% rate increase in the sewer and wastewater rate.

Appalachian Power wants a 3.6 % surcharge added to customer’s bills for infrastructure improvements which the utility says are overdue.

But the crowd wasn’t buying it, saying the shareholders and CEOs can pay for the infrastructure improvements, not the ratepayers.

Others cited neglect and procrastination trimming trees and building water lines.

“If I were a restaurant I don’t go to my menu board and say ‘Hey, by the way, there’s a two-dollar surcharge because I gotta fix the ice cream machine,” said one man who got up to speak.

“People are tired of seeing these rate increases… we had the water crisis in 2014, a couple of years later a pretty hefty rate increase, in 2019 another one, and now they want a third one and you know when you’re paying your bill, a lot of that money is supposed to be going into the infrastructure and they keep asking for more and more and the PSC just seems to rubber-stamp them,” said Barach.

Even though the delegates heard from the crowd Wednesday, the PSC has the final say on whether the utility companies get their rate increases.

Representatives from West Virginia American Water were also there to listen to what their customers had to say.

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