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Potable water takes real money to deliver

WEST Virginians are by now quite familiar with the Public Service Commission Dance on utility rate increases. A regulated utility waltzes in with a request.

The usual advocates do-si-do about how the increase will harm the old, the poor and the young.

The PSC does the hokey-pokey until it agrees to a lower increase.

This seemed to be the case with West Virginia American Water's recent rate increase, which will see the average bill rise $2.77 a month beginning on Oct. 11.

The new average will be $41.88 a month.

The company needed the money to help cover the $85 million it spent on capital improvements, including upgrades in its pumping stations, storage tanks and computer systems.

Instead of raising the $24 million with the 19.7 percent increase the company sought, West Virginia American Water settled for $8.5 million, an increase of 7.1 percent.

All this dancing around the need to fund capital improvements is an odd way of doing business. State government should do everything possible to encourage investment in the state's infrastructure by private enterprise and corporations.

Dancing around the need for improvements is not helpful.

To be sure, company vice president Jeff McIntyre sounded positive in his press release.

"We appreciate the commission's thorough examination of and ruling on this joint stipulation, which all parties agreed is a fair and reasonable resolution that eliminates the additional expense of full litigation before the commission," said McIntyre.

"The settlement was based on extensive negotiations and substantial compromises by all parties, and with the commission's modifications, we still believe this order is a fair and reasonable resolution with the best interest of our customers at its core."

But what is he supposed to say? The company likely will seek approval for another rate increase from the PSC in a couple years.

Make no mistake that West Virginians need the PSC because public utilities are by their nature outside the marketplace.

But can we end dancing around the need to spend millions to provide utility services in the Mountain State?


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