They came waving water and sewer bills of $200, $300 a month and telling tales of not flushing toilets -- and forgoing gardens -- to battle the bills.

They came waving water and sewer bills of $200, $300 a month and telling tales of not flushing toilets -- and forgoing gardens -- to battle the bills.

About 70 residents of Blacklick Estates, a blue-collar subdivision in Madison Township, gathered Saturday, March 19, to air frustrations and fears over a staple of life.

They are frustrated with high water bills and fear that another rate increase is on the way from Aqua Ohio, an investor-owned utility that serves their neighborhood of about 3,000 people.

"No matter what company owns it, we've faced these issues ... it's a hardship," said Reese Kinney of Blacklick Estates Block Watch, which organized the meeting at Eastland Christian Church.

Former Madison Township trustee Gary McDonald said combined water and sewer rates in the area have more than tripled since 2002, when the company was called Ohio American Water.

"These folks just can't continue to deal with this, " he said.

Aqua Ohio -- which serves 14,000 other Franklin County residents who pay the same rates -- bought the utility in 2012. It received a 9-percent rate increase in 2014 from state regulators and passed on another 4-percent increase to add a $1.2 million system to soften the area's notoriously hard water.

The company is eligible to return to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio for another increase later this year, and residents foresee another pass-along charge for maintenance such as painting the water tower.

Residents also complained about appliance-wrecking poor water quality, with only two in the crowd raising their hands to say they drink water from the tap. Aqua Ohio officials say the company's water quality has improved and exceeds all standards for safe drinking water.

"Don't ask us to speculate on when and how much" rates will go up, Aqua Ohio spokesman Jeff LaRue said.

According to LaRue, the average water and sewer bill in Blacklick Estates is about $102 a month. The rate is a few dollars less than what Franklin County charges to provide Columbus-treated water and twice what Columbus residents pay.

LaRue told the audience that water bills could go down if state lawmakers cooperate. As a private company, a fourth of Aqua Ohio's revenue goes for taxes, including property taxes. Since electric and natural gas companies don't pay property taxes on their infrastructure, private water companies are seeking the same treatment, LaRue said.

State Rep. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus, attended the meeting and concluded,

"It concerns me," said state Rep. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus), who attended Saturday's meeting. "There are issues we need to talk about."

Craig said he and Rep. Heather Bishoff (D-Blacklick), who also represents Madison Township, are talking with Aqua Ohio and PUCO officials.