A decision on whether thousands of York County customers will have their water and sewer rates increase is close, but the county may already have scored a victory in the case.
On March 27, Carolina Water Service informed the South Carolina Public Service Commission the utility would drop its request for a controversial change allowing future rate increases without public hearings and existing levels of state oversight.
That request, which was for a utility system improvement rate, prompted York County to intervene in the case where Carolina Water wants to raise rates 15 to 30 percent statewide. The utility has more than 9,700 water and sewer customers in York County.
The final public service commission hearing on the statewide rate case is April 3 in Columbia.
In a letter to the commission dated March 27, the utility stated it would withdraw the improvement rate request. The utility could apply for it again in a separate filing. York County would then, according to the letter, withdraw as an "intervenor" — the official term for a party of record in the case.
Initially, the county decided not to intervene in the rate case, but applied past deadline to participate saying the impacts of the improvement rate were "not evident from the face of the application."
The improvement rate would have allowed Carolina Water to petition the public service commission for changes rather than opening a new case each time. Utility representatives have said rate increases every other year or so are part of the business model. The improvement rate would've allowed for increases up to 10 percent based on the capital investments from the ongoing rate case.
The county argued that arrangement would take away customers' "ability to challenge the reasonableness” of future rate increases.
The rate case has been a point of contention for Carolina Water customers. Price and quality of water were the biggest issues when York County residents testified in Lake Wylie in early March. More than 50 people statewide, many of them from York County, have applied in protest of the increase. Others have testified at several hearings like the one in Lake Wylie.
In a separate case, the county and Carolina Water applied to have the service commission approve its franchise agreement allowing the utility to serve its base in York County for another 25 years. County leaders have said the agreement gives them more favorable terms should they decide to buy out Carolina Water.
A decision on the franchise agreement won't come until at least late April.