Local News

Residents to fight proposed water rate increase

Posted December 30, 2008 5:40 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:11 p.m. EDT

— Some area residents plan to fight a proposed rate increase by the company that provides their drinking water.

Aqua North Carolina, a publicly traded company that provides drinking water and wastewater treatment to about 255,000 residents in 42 counties statewide, has filed a request with the state Utilities Commission to increase water and sewer rates for about 70,000 customers by 20 to 120 percent.

"I couldn't believe with everything going on these days that somebody's asking for that much of an increase," said Jim Czerski, an Aqua customer who lives in the Sussex Acres subdivision in north Raleigh.

Czerski said his bill will likely jump from $70 to about $100. A single man, he said Aqua's flat-rate pricing unfairly hits him because he doesn't use a lot of water.

"Everybody's hurting. This doesn't make it any easier," he said.

Under the proposed increase, which the Utilities Commission will review Feb. 3, the sewer bill alone in Garner's Mobile Hill Estates community would increase 126 percent.

Aqua customers in Fayetteville, whose rates went up earlier this year, aren't affected by the rate request.

"As a company, we need to and are entitled to a fair rate of return on our investment, and that's what we're asking," Aqua President Tom Roberts said, adding that the company was "sympathetic to the economic times."

Since 2000, the company has poured $60 million into infrastructure improvements, Roberts said. Much of that was upgrading the system it acquired in North Carolina four years ago when it purchased Heater Utilities.

In recent years, Aqua has been criticized for discolored water and high levels of radium, which can cause cancer.

Czerski said Aqua is asking too much, and he plans to fight the proposed increase.

"If everybody gets away with a few bucks, eventually (the cost of utilities) gets higher and higher and higher, and that few bucks becomes a bigger dent in the wallet," he said.