Wayland City officials voiced concerns about how a temporary flat rate approved by the Kentucky Public Service Commission for Southern Water will impact low income residents this week.
Mayor Jerry Fultz told commission members during a June 11 meeting that he received calls from residents about the new rate.
Accepting the recommendation of the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office of Rate Intervention, the PSC ordered Southern Water to suspend all meter testing and start charging all retail customers a flat rate of $58.82 per month, an increase of about 42 percent over what residents using 4,000 gallons per month typically pay.
The flat rate, which went into effect on June 6, will increase average customer bills by about $17, the PSC reported, from $41.40 to $58.82.
The PSC approved a flat rate for Southern Water retail customers “reluctantly,” a press release said, because Southern Water has not tested meters in 10 years, has no replacement meters in stock and “cannot rely on the accuracy” of its meters.
Southern Water commission Chair Jeff Prater recently reported that the district will seek assistance for low income customers served by the water district.
At the meeting, Fultz shared a table of rates, reporting that Wayland residents with both water and sewage services through Southern will pay more than $122 monthly. That total also includes $16 added to the bills for trash collection.
Fultz reported that residents who only have water and trash collection on their bills will pay nearly $75 monthly for that service, and senior citizens, who receive discounted trash bills from the Floyd County Fiscal Court, will pay about $70 per month.
“They are very concerned about the rate increase, as I am as well,” Fultz said, reporting that the $122 he cited is both the “minimum and the maximum” for residents who get both water and sewer from Southern.
“What I learned today that I did not know,” Fultz said, “is when I say it’s the minimum and maximum, our rates had been based on the first 2,000 gallons of water, and then your sewage was based on 125 percent of what your water bill was, which made it a little bit higher than the water, so it could fluctuate … So your bills could change. But now, it doesn’t matter. You could use 2,000 gallons, or you could use 10,000 gallons, your bill is going to be $122.24. This is a set rate.”
Commissioner Charles Bentley joked, “I can wash my cars now because it doesn’t matter. My rate will be the same.”
Fultz shared information about rates of other utilities in Floyd, Pike, Johnson and other counties, reporting that Southern Water’s rates are higher than most of those rates. The rates he provided, however, did not include fees that may be imposed.
Commissioner Kathy “Suzie” Mills complained about road damage caused by Southern Water when it fixes water leaks — a problem that was also recently addressed by the Floyd County Fiscal Court.
“They fixed a water leak on the back alley. This really gets under my skin,” she said. “We just got through working on that road and patching it. They go in and they’ve got a water leak. They dig it up and fix it. Now, there we’ve got a big place in the pavement again. And I mean, how do they get away with going in and tearing up a road like that? … I mean, how do they get by with that? How do they just go in and tear a piece of property up and say it’s okay, it’s your responsibility when it’s their lines that they had to come in and fix?”
Fultz said he asked questions about the problem.
“Everyone has told me the same thing. They’re not in the paving business, basically,” Fultz said. “They come in, they have a right-of-way to fix their lines, protect their lines. They don’t have to do anything else. My argument to them was if you tear up gravel, put gravel back and if you tear up somebody’s concrete drive, you should put concrete back. If you tear up the asphalt, you should put the asphalt back. That seems reasonable to me. That’s a reasonable request. I get no response when I address that.”
He asked City Attorney Tyler Green for advice.
“I would make them prove to you that they have a right-of-way, before allowing them to even dig up a city street,” Green said.
Fultz told him, “Well, they never ask. They just come in and start digging, typically. Can we force them to at least make a request or notify us before they do something? Do we need to issue them a letter? Can we write them a letter, informing them that we would like to see their, I guess, whatever paperwork they might have, and I bet they don’t have any. I don’t want to be hard on them. We want to have the best water system around, but if they’re coming to fix a leak —.”
Green said, “We want to have the best city streets around, too.”
“Yes,” Fultz said. “And it tears our city streets and our sidewalks up.”
He said he would “be all for” giving Southern Water right-of-ways for water lines, under the condition that the water district repairs damages to roads and sidewalks caused by water line repairs.
In recent meetings, Lackey-to-Wayland part of the district’s system has been repeatedly cited by Southern Water officials as one of the worst areas for leaks.
Futlz encouraged commissioners and residents to call Southern Water to complain about the road damage issue. Commissioners also discussed the possibility of submitting public comments in the rate increase application that’s pending before the PSC.
In March, the Floyd County Fiscal Court approved a resolution requiring all utilities that damage roads to repair them.
The resolution puts all utilities “on notice” that if installation or repair of lines near or under a county road damages it, the company is required to “repair and completely fix the road back to the manner it was before the surface was disturbed.” The work is required to be done “within a reasonable timeframe,” the resolution states.
It notes that if a company neglects or refuses to repair the road, the county has the right to make repairs and seek payment from the utility for the work.
Andrew Melnykovych, spokesperson for the PSC, reported that the agency has no regulations that address damages caused by water line repairs.
“We have no authority to assess damages against a utility for damage to property, loss of property, etc.,” he wrote in an email. “Those are all matters that fall to the local court of jurisdiction — most commonly either district court (for small claims) or circuit court.”
He reported that some local governments address the need for sidewalk and repairs “either in their easement agreements with utilities or in the franchise agreements with utilities.”