A state decision-making panel, hundreds of disgruntled residents and a parade of public officials turned up at a Dec. 3 water rate hearing in Tega Cay, but one woman stole the show.
Linda Stevenson addressed, answered questions for, and at times even entertained the state officials who’ll decide what, if any, rate increase will be allowed for Tega Cay Water Service customers. Stevenson wasn’t short on material. She’s hounded the company since its last rate increase several years ago, documenting evidence and calling for others to do the same through the Tega Cay Water Citizen Advisory Council.
That small collection of neighbors, often meeting in Stevenson’s home, ballooned to scores of interested residents when the water provider announced in August that it wants an increase of more than 18 percent for water service and almost 67 percent for wastewater service. A website started up at norateincrease.com, and both the group and city promoted ways for residents to fight the increase.
“Tega Cay is a special place with special people,” Stevenson said. “We just needed the organization and encouragement of knowing that someone was listening and striving to stop this outrageous request for more money in exchange for poor service.”
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Organization is what has many optimistic about the upcoming state decision. A 2009 Public Service Commission (PSC) case to raise Tega Cay Water Service rates drew four protests to the online docket. With the state commission set for a final hearing Jan. 8 on the current case, there are 682 “protestants” on record, according to the PSC website at press time.
“Historically, residents were not organized – although they were equally as outraged,” Stevenson said. “Due to the diligence of our committee, we now have more knowledge about how to send letters of protest to the Public Service Commission and which of the many issues we need to highlight.”
Stevenson’s group has met with the water company and state health department, along with the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation and multiple elected officials. When issues arose sending online complaints, the city took letters and faxed them for residents. If anything about the case has Stevenson surprised, it isn’t that so many people are now on board.
“(The) surprise was that we did not have more,” she said. “Defeating this proposed increase will save a homeowner with average usage approximately $500 per year. It would seem that everyone would take a little time to send their protest in order to save that kind of money.”
Stevenson’s group argues that Tega Cay has two main assets that draw people in to take a closer look – the lake and the golf course. Both, she said, are significantly impacted by the water provider that she’d like to see improve not only in price, but also in service and environmental accountability. Support of the group’s effort from city festivals to council meetings has Stevenson feeling good about this case – and any future ones.
“In the past, the citizens stood alone. But now we are organized and are here to help each other,” she said. “Residents will no longer fight alone. ...”
Following the Jan. 8 meeting in Columbia, Tega Cay will find out whether the groundswell of protest in 2012 made a difference. The case made this time uses hard facts, not just complaints, and is one Stevenson hopes will stand for itself.
“I feel very positive that we will defeat this proposed rate increase,” she said. “Residents clearly made the case against Tega Cay Water Service in their testimony about poor customer service, lack of maintenance, disregard for environmental and regulatory obligations, unattractive wastewater plants and the already high rates.”