Columbia Mayor Leo Lutz questions the Columbia Water Company's proposed rate increases at a hearing in Marietta on September 27.
Columbia Borough Council President Kelly Murphy and Mayor Leo Lutz questioned the Columbia Water Company's recent request for a rate increase of just over 13% at a hearing on Wednesday. Murphy and Lutz spoke under oath at a hearing conducted by the PA Public Utility Commission's Office of Administrative Law Judge at Marietta Borough Hall.
Murphy requested that the rate increase be denied. In a prepared statement, he described as "excessive" the requested rate increases of 13.18% for residents using 3,000 gallons of water per month, and 13.21% for commercial customers. He said Columbia residents cannot afford the rate increases requested.
Murphy said rate increases typically follow capital improvement projects within the municipality in which increases are being proposed. He noted, however, that the borough is not aware of any significant capital improvement projects taken on by the Columbia Water Company within the Borough since the company's last request.
"It appears to us the Columbia Water Company is attempting to raise the profits for the stockholders on the backs of Columbia residents without making any significant capital contributions to the water system," Murphy said.
Murphy also noted that a Columbia resident will be paying $32.55 per month, while a resident served by the East Donegal Municipal Authority will be paying $42 per quarter, or $14 per month. Residents served by the York Water Company typically pay about $22 per month.
Mayor Lutz asked how the proposed rate increase and the surcharge added several years ago just prior to construction has impacted stockholders and the profits of the Columbia Water Company.
"Did Columbia Water Company stockholders and Columbia Water Company as a business incur some of the cost of upgrading the plant, or was it all put on the residents' backs?" Lutz asked.
There were only six Columbia residents (including Murphy and Lutz) present for the hearing and a second hearing that evening.
According to the PUC, the request submitted by Columbia Water would increase operating revenues by approximately $923,668, or 17.8 percent. Under the company’s proposal, the total bill for an average metered residential customer in the Columbia Division would increase from $399.48 a year to $452.04 a year. The average annual bill for metered residential customers in the Marietta Division would increase from $318.48 to $452.04 (based on an average residential usage of 3,700 gallons per month with a 5/8-inch meter, and not including any PennVEST surcharges).
On August 3, 2017, the Commission voted to suspend the rate increase request for up to seven months and assigned the case to the PUC’s Office of Administrative Law Judge for investigation. Their testimony will become part of the record on which the PUC will issue its final decision in early 2018.
The company serves approximately 10,223 customers in West Hempfield, Rapho, East Donegal and Manor Townships, and Columbia, Mountville and Marietta Boroughs, Lancaster County, and Hellam Township, York County.