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Assessing the water rate request
March 3, 2014 - Rob Weaver
An letter opposing to Aqua Ohio Inc.'s request for a 12.8 percent rate increase arrived at The A-T office today. Andrew Kohler of Waverly said he filed a written objection to the rate-hike request with Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Feb. 19.
Scott Ballenger of the water company's Marion division, which includes Tiffin, told City Council members about the request last month. Ballenger said someone being billed for 4,000 gallons a month would pay an extra $5.95.
That would be about 20 cents more per day, taking that monthly bill from $46.50 to $52.45. I'll leave it to you to decide whether that is a lot. It is an amount that is easy to comprehend.
Now, for some figures that aren't used in the households of water company customers.
"2013 was another record-setting year for Aqua America,” Aqua America Chairman and CEO Nicholas DeBenedictis said in a Feb. 27 release. “The company continued to enhance water quality and service reliability for customers, maintained industry-leading margins, grow stronger financially, and enhance shareholder value 19 percent plus a stock split and 9 percent dividend increase.
“The company also eclipsed the $200 million dollar level for net income just 5 years after passing the $100 million level, which took nearly 125 years to accomplish.” That doesn't sound like a company hurting for money. Yet the utility seeks millions more from rate payers this year.
“To date in 2014, the company has received rate awards and infrastructure surcharges in Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, and Pennsylvania (wastewater) estimated to increase annualized revenues by approximately $2.8 million.” the release states. “The company has $21.0 million of rate cases pending before state regulatory bodies in Ohio, New Jersey, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
“The primary driver of these filings is the recovery of capital (infrastructure) investments and increased expenses since the companies' previous rate filings in those states.”
And, if you'll pardon the pun, that $21 million is just a drop in the bucket compared to what Aqua spent last year and plans to spend this year.
“In 2013, the company invested more than $300 million for the fourth straight year to improve infrastructure across all of its regulated operations as part of its capital investment program. ... and Aqua expects to invest more than $325 million in 2014,” the release notes. “Over the next 3 years, the company expects to invest $1 billion in pipe replacements to improve its distribution network; upgrade plants to enhance water quality; and improve service reliability for its customers.”
At that meeting last month, Council President Rich Cline asked the Aqua rep for details on how much the rate hike would cost the residents of Tiffin and how much of that would be used to improve the water system and service in the city.
But note this: the city of Fremont has spent $40 million and counting on a new reservoir, and council members there are debating whether to spend millions more fixing the Ballville Dam.
Considering how often the Sandusky River and Rock Creek overflow their banks, water isn't exactly a scarce commodity around here. Yet the cost of clean drinking water keeps rising.
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