The Canal Winchester Times

Aqua Ohio rate request heads to PUCO

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An application from Aqua Ohio for an 11.75-percent water rate increase for all the company's customers has received support from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio staff, and is moving forward for potential board approval.

PUCO representative Matthew Schilling said the board could act on the request increase at its next meeting, which has not yet been scheduled. Its last meeting was held July 9.

If the PUCO approves the rate increase, it would mean an additional charge of $7.31 per month for water for Madison Township residents and would generate additional statewide base revenue of approximately $6,656,003.

Aqua Ohio serves about 141,000 water customers throughout 17 counties in Ohio. The company's last water rate increase of 13 percent was granted in 2012. A 4-percent sewer rate increase also went into effect then; there is no sewer rate increase request at this time.

Madison Township trustee Gary McDonald said while he appreciates better water quality and the company's efforts to improve its customer relations and communication with residents, he remains opposed to the higher fee.

"Residents of Blacklick Estates over the years have been burdened with poor water quality and high water bills," he said. "Rates have increased over the years, well over 110 percent since I have been a resident, and it seems the rates are constantly going up every three or four years."

In November, Aqua Ohio representative Greg Odell said the rate increase is necessary because of system upgrades, including the water-softening controls being installed in Madison Township.

"With the system improvements in place by the time this rate increase is approved, you can stop using your personal water softener, which will save on salt and power costs," Odell said.

"For those customers without water softeners, the water will now be at levels where you'll only need to use half your amount of laundry detergent, so that will be helpful, too."

McDonald said the infrastructure improvements "should have and could been done" with money generated by previous rate increases.

"As a trustee, I have been told stories where residents are having to choose between paying their water bills or going without gas and groceries at times," he said. "They simply at times pay bills based on their own creative lottery systems. This bothers me and should bother Aqua Water."

According to McDonald, the company's rates had been based on a consumption rate of 4,500 gallons a month but that has been revised to 4,000 gallons, "which allows them to collect more money over the previous usage rate."

In addition, he said, Aqua Ohio has added what he called a "hidden tax" of around 20 percent to its bills to cover taxes the company pays to the township and the Groveport Madison school district. McDonald said such tariffs are legal, but "in essence, residents of Blacklick Estates are being assessed in paying additional taxes where the rest of the township residents are not.

"Those tax savings by Aqua Water should have been put toward the reverse osmosis, without raising the water rates."

Five public hearings were held between June 23 and July 9, according to Shilling, in each of the regions of the state where Aqua Ohio operates, to gather feedback regarding the rate hike.

McDonald said Madison Township officials were unable to attend the June 23 session because Odell notified them of it only one day in advance.

Customers may still submit comments online at dis.puc. ohio.gov or by mail, at 180 E. Broad St., Columbus, Ohio 43215. The case number for the application is 13-2124-WW-AIR.

The next step in the process, now that the public hearings have been completed, is for the PUCO attorney examiner to review the case record, including transcripts of the hearings and to prepare a recommendation to the commissioners.

Schilling said a decision is required by law to be completed within 275 days of filing, which took place in December.

Aqua Ohio's Franklin County/Lawrence Division serves approximately 8,025 water customers and 6,554 wastewater customers in portions of Blendon, Madison, Norwich, Perry, Prairie, Sharon and Truro townships, according to the PUCO report.

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