Tega Cay residents pour into to fight water hike

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comDecember 5, 2012 

— Between the board signs, uniformed shirts and cheering hundreds deep into the Glennon Center banquet hall, opponents of a proposed water rate increase in Tega Cay had all the makings of home field advantage. Which is precisely where they’re being hit, they say – at home.

The South Carolina Public Service Commission held a hearing Dec. 3 in Tega Cay to take testimony on the proposed Tega Cay Water Service increase of more than 18 percent for water, 67 percent for wastewater. Almost 200 seats were filled as perhaps 100 more stood by to offer a near unanimous chorus.

“It says something as far as the rate that is being charged and the service that is being provided,” said state Sen. Wes Hayes (R-Rock Hill), one of a half dozen public officials to vocally oppose the increase. “I don’t think this is a few disgruntled people, here.”

State Rep. Ralph Norman (R-Rock Hill) held up decades-old clay pipes asking why more modern ones weren’t in place, citing the “failure of a company to do the basic necessities.”

“They have outdated lines all over Tega Cay,” he said.

Tega Cay Mayor George Sheppard called the fourth increase request in 12 years a “form of public greed,” while several City Council members said Tega Cay Water Service annually creates the most complaints or concerns from residents.

In 2011 a handful of residents began the Tega Cay Water Citizen Advisory Council to document complaints and problems with the utility. Group leader Linda Stevenson took questions from regulators and argued that high rates and poor service for years should mean a “no” vote to the money being asked for now.

“The residents and customers have more than paid for these improvements,” she said.

The company contends that increases are needed for past improvements and to keep up with costs. Stevenson acknowledged recent improvements and progress made with the company.

“This is the first year that I’ve ever seen improvements,” she said.

Commissioner Lib Fleming was “impressed” by the group, saying the specifics of those concerns provided were helpful to the commission.

“This is the kind of action that will make progress,” she said.

Company legal staff countered that information not from 2011, the year of record in the decision, should not be considered in the case. Many complaints involved issues prior to then, and some residents did say that improvements have been made in some areas.

Complaints ranged from water quality or odor to high costs, sewage spills into Lake Wylie and poor customer service.

Resident Robert Zelewski called it “incomprehensible how a company could run this way,” describing long waits on customer service calls and repeated small repairs to fix the same, large problem.

“There seems to be no accountability. Make them accountable to the citizens they serve,” he said.

Zelewski also asked regulators not to grant a smaller than asked-for increase, when community members testified that no increase would be acceptable.

“They’re asking for the stars when they’re hoping for the moon, and anything else that you may give to them,” he said.

The Public Service Commission will decide on the case only after a Columbia hearing scheduled for Jan. 8.

Customers who want to document opposition to the proposed increase can go to dms.psc.sc.gov and search Tega Cay Water Service under the “Docket Search” tab. The Reference Docket Number is 2012-177-WS.

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