KEYSER - A group of citizens have filed a protest with the West Virginia Public Service Commission in regard to Piedmont's proposed 56.75% water rate hike, causing the PSC to place the increase on hold.
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - A group of citizens have filed a protest with the West Virginia Public Service Commission in regard to Piedmont’s proposed 56.75% water rate hike, causing the PSC to place the increase on hold.
In the meantime, a hearing has been set for this month to determine the validity of the petition filed by the citizens.
The Piedmont City Council approved the rate increase on Jan. 14, and the protest, accompanied by a petition signed by 99 persons, was filed with the PSC on Feb. 7.
Three days later, the PSC suspended the date the increase would go into effect until the complaint could be investigated. On Feb. 19, the City of Piedmont, through attorneys Steptoe & Johnson, filed a motion to dismiss the protest.
According to the motion, the city is questioning the validity of many of the names on the petition, and is “concerned that the commission did not determine whether the protest petition was legally sufficient” before scheduling a hearing.
Only residents who are water customers are considered as valid signatures and the petition must be signed by at least 25% of those valid customers.
Piedmont city officials are alleging that only 57 of the 99 signatures are valid, and that constitutes only 21.8% of the total customers.
“When determining a valid signature under a protest petition, the commission is well aware that: (i) only one signature per service location counts; (ii) tenants that do not pay their water bills are not ‘customers’ for the purposes of protesting a water rate increase; and (iii) illegible signatures and addresses are invalid,” according to the document.
The following day, Denison Powers, on behalf of the protesting citizens, filed a response to the city’s motion and questioned their methods of rejecting some of the signatures.
A hearing to determine the validity of the signatures and therefore the PSC’s ability to investigate the rate increase has been scheduled for Tuesday, March 17, at 1:30 p.m. in the Piedmont Legion.
“If the commission determines that there are adequate numbers of signatures on the protest petition, the commission will proceed to hearing the matter on April 24,” according to a Notice of Hearing from the PSC.
“If the commission determines that there are inadequate signatures on the protest petition … the matter will be dismissed and Piedmont will be free to implement the rates.”