The cost of water already has at least one York County leader talking buyout of the system. Upping the price tag further isn’t sitting well with customers.
“There’s something wrong with a company that needs these kinds of increases to operate,” said Chuck Ledford, who lives in unincorporated Fort Mill.
Ledford joined residents from Rock Hill, Lake Wylie and Clover on Tuesday night in opposing the Carolina Water Service rate increase. The state public service commission hearing at Camp Thunderbird, in Lake Wylie, drew about 100 people. Some complained about the cost. Others said they fear the water is not safe to drink. There were residents who voiced both of those complaints.
Carolina Water has more than 9,700 water and sewer customers in York County. Last year, the company applied for increases of about 15 to 30 percent statewide. A final hearing comes early next month.
Gerald Tansey is one. He can’t figure out why the utility can come every two years and ask for major increases.
“Social Security will not give me that increase,” the Lake Wylie resident said. “It puts a hardship on people.”
Charles Wood, president of the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce board, said it isn’t like the company has massive costs to cover. Lake Wylie alone has thousands of new homes approved for build-out in coming years. Typically developers put in pipes and then give them to the utility.
All those new customers alone should increase revenue, Wood said, and with brand new pipes that shouldn’t need maintenance for some time.
Carolina Water points to investments made statewide as the reason for the increases. Company leaders say they’ve invested $13.9 million into their infrastructure since the last rate increase. Wood points to the less than $200,000 of that amount noted specifically for a York County project.
A pump station was upgraded in the Lake Wylie area. Not much, Wood said, for a system that’s 50 years old.
“It seems like it’s chump change,” he said. “Getting band aids to fix the problems.”
Linda Fick of Rock Hill used the same term.
“A lot of money is put into temporary band aids,” she said. “And it’s all for naught.”
Fick said two of three wells in her neighborhood don’t work anymore. The other one puts out just four gallons of water per minute. Outdoor watering hasn’t been allowed in three years. Carolina Water has to truck in potable water for the Shandon community routinely.
“That truck brings in 6,000 gallons of water, two or three times a week,” Fick said.
Ledford has been a customer since 1989. It isn’t, he said, by choice.
“This is atrocious,” he said. “It’s time to say no.”
Ledford said as recently as 2013 his bill averaged $85.74 a month. Last year he averaged $131.89 a month.
“My average usage has stayed about the same,” Ledford said.
Several more residents complained about flat sewer fees for service they say they don’t use, or base water fees even when they aren’t in the home.
“You should pay for what you use,” said Clover resident Al Vesting.
Brian Augustine lived in Cabarrus County in North Carolina. There, he could use all the water he wanted and barely top $40 a month.
$40 Cabarrus County, “Here, I can’t get below $100,” Augustine said.
John Gauci lived on Long Island, New Yor,k with a wife and two children. He watered his grass three times a week and got a water bill every three months, he said, for about $45. Now there are no children in his Lake Wylie home and the bill is nowhere near that low.
“The toilet ran overnight,” Gauci said. “$200. Come on.”
At a point he installed a meter to show where he wasn’t using water and sewer he was being charged for, Gauci said. Then he was charged for having that meter read. Or, he could be charged to uninstall it.
“They nickel and dime you,” Gauci said.
Andrew Rivan said he was told he’d need extra insurance on his Lake Wylie home because it’s beside a pump station. There was that much concern, he said, the station would malfunction and his home would be damaged. A cost Rivan said he shouldn’t have to pay.
“It’s not my fault that your equipment wasn’t maintained properly,” he said.
Yet he understands the potential for problems.
“After every rain our backyard smells like a sewer,” Rivan said.
York County Councilwoman Allison Love listened to concerns Tuesday night before offering her own. Recently York County agreed to a new 25-year franchise agreement allowing Carolina Water to continue operating. Love said it wasn’t an endorsement of the company.
It was an effort to get a more favorable contract in place than the last 25-year one. A new contract allowing outs for the county should problems with Carolina Water persist.
“My intent over the next 12 to 18 months is to do the due diligence to determine whether we’re going to keep them on or have the county buy them out,” Love said.
Love stands by the recent contract extension. In a perfect world, she said, Carolina Water would continue serving the area with a product that no longer draws complaints on cost, service and water quality.
“It was the best decision the county could make,” she said. “I just hope it continues to be the best decision.”
Love said residents are “taken advantage of” and the timing of the rate increase right after the extension is “horrendous.” The community is at a disadvantage, Love said.
“Every time we have fought just to keep the rates we’ve already had, we’ve been denied,” she said.
Love said the capital improvements in York County don’t warrant the increase, and state regulators shouldn’t give Carolina Water a “blank check” by allowing future increases without the full public review process. Something the utility is asking for as part of its rate case.
Where he lives, Ledford said either the county taking over or his community annexing into Fort Mill or Tega Cay probably will have to happen at some point. If just for the water issue.
“That’s going to happen one of these days,” he said. “That will happen sooner or later.”
Gauci told the commission Tuesday he understands they aren’t the ones with the problems expressed by so many residents. He hopes they’ll take them to heart, anyway.
“It’s not your problem,” he said. “The water company is a our problem, and it’s a big problem.”