By Linda Dillman
Blacklick Estates residents beleaguered by high water rates could face another hike in utility costs as Aqua Ohio prepares to ask the PUCO later this month to consider a 9.2 percent increase in residential water billing only.
The company was last granted a rate increase in 2014 with a system improvement charge (SIC) applied in 2015. Aqua Ohio representative Jeff LaRue said the charge was not directly tied to the development’s new water treatment system, in spite of what some claimed and was reported.
“That charge was applied to all PUCO regulated Aqua owned systems across Ohio and helped fund projects across the state,” said LaRue. “The system was used as local example of how Blacklick Estates was a net winner in the funding model.”
If the planned increase is approved at the requested rate, the average customer bill would go up $4.96 per month. LaRue reported the average customer uses approximately 4,023 gallons per month, equating $51.76 for water and $50.67 for sewer charges for a current monthly bill of $102.43.
“Since Aqua purchased the system in 2012, the average customer bill has increased by $8. In that time, Aqua has invested more than $2 million and plans to invest nearly $700,000 in 2016,” said LaRue.
The primary reason for the increase is for continuing infrastructure improvements.
“Officially, this will be the second rate case request to the PUCO by Aqua in Blacklick Estates, but most residents don’t understand the difference between a rate case and a SIC charge, so this would be the third time that rates have gone up under Aqua,” said LaRue.
The company will have to defend the SIC charge as part of the rate case. LaRue said SICs are not given the same scrutiny as full-blown rate cases until the next rate case. Once the company makes the request, and assuming the PUCO agrees to consider it, the process usually takes about six to nine months.
LaRue noted the company is in the early stages of the process at this point and, although already notifying the Madison Township trustees of their intent, has not assembled the documentation to submit their request to the PUCO.
Despite the early heads-up, Madison Township Trustee John Kershner is worried about the economic impact on citizens of Blacklick Estates.
“My concern is that these continued increases are greatly outpacing our residents’ increases in earnings and that the water rate hurts the property values as wise buyers look at utility costs when considering the purchase of a home,” said Kershner. “Further the PUCO mandates that Aqua operate at a 6 percent profit margin.”
According to Kershner, the lion’s share of Aqua America’s services is regulated utilities.
“These generally demand a profit of 6 to 8 percent,” said Kershner. “Yet, if you look at Aqua’s financial reports, they are showing net profits of three to four times that amount. So, unless they are reporting false profit numbers, I don’t see how they can justify needing more money for the water rates. I am concerned they are burying what are truly profits in depreciation. Otherwise, I’m at a loss for how they could be maintaining such high net profit margins.”
Kershner said residents need to work together to make the PUCO aware of their feelings that rate increases are not warranted nor necessary.