Another water rate hike could cause some Blendon Township residents to begin looking for new places to live.

Another water rate hike could cause some Blendon Township residents to begin looking for new places to live.

"Some people have already tried to move. Our next door neighbor moved," resident Pam Clegg said. "I know others who have moved for the same reason. This has historically been a problem (in Blendon Township) -- when I moved here 22 years ago and first saw the water bill, I just thought 'Oh, my goodness.'"

The township's water supplier, Ohio American Water (OAW), submitted a pre-filing notification on May 7 with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) for an overall rate increase of 23.4 percent to be phased in over a three-year period. If approved, the average monthly water bill for customers in Huber Ridge will increase from $68 monthly to $82, according to information from the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC).

If the latest request is approved, it will be the third rate increase in three years for Ohio American Water. The PUCO approved rate increases for OAW in 2007 and 2008: a 14-percent increase for water service in Portage and Franklin counties along with a 5-percent increase for wastewater services in 2007, and a rate increase in 2008 that averaged 30.37 percent for customers in the two counties, as well as an average increase of 36.94 percent for wastewater service.

Huber Ridge Area Association president James Welch said the township's residents must continue to seek aid from elected officials.

"We're going to have to invest all of our energy into our elected officials, the governor and the Statehouse, that laws need to be changed," Welch said. "I'm worried that it will be tough getting people to write letters -- we've written letters the last two years and the last time the PUCO just ignored us."

The rate increase is needed to recover investments in recent years, according to OAW spokeswoman Mary Beth Johnson. That includes more than $1.7-million for pipes, pumps and other improvements in its Franklin County systems and more than $17-million statewide since July 2007, she said.

The rate request applies to all of OAW's Ohio service areas. Johnson said the company provides service to about 200,000 customers in Ohio, including about 19,660 in Franklin County.

Clegg said her family tries in many ways to cut water usage. They have purchased a low-flow toilet and a front-load washer, but their water bill still is creeping toward the three-digit mark.

"Our last bill was $88. We've really been trying to conserve," she said. "I almost didn't plant flowers this year, which I love to do, but I did it anyway."

In the last two years, township leaders have organized town hall meetings with the PUCO and OCC about requested rate increases, but Welch said nothing along those lines has been scheduled yet this year. He said the township will need to hold such meetings or something similar to get the attention of the PUCO.

"It's like a game of cat and mouse with this company. We have to see who makes the better story to the PUCO," Welch said. "We're looking at a 10-percent unemployment rate in Ohio right now, and I've seen residents with large families here with water bills of $150 and $200.

"Ohio thinks there's a problem now with power and water rates; just wait until people start to leave the state."

Representatives of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel said that with a pre-filing notification submitted to the PUCO on May 7, the earliest date an actual rate increase application will be filed with the PUCO is the beginning of June.