Columbia, SC (WLTX) - A number of Carolina Water Service customers are outraged after the company proposed rate increases near 25 percent of what they are now.
It's the third time in six years the company has proposed a hike, and was the focus of a public hearing in front of the South Carolina Public Service Commission Monday night.
The last time Carolina Water Service proposed a rate increase, the case ended up before the South Carolina Supreme Court. Ultimately, that case was sent back to the state's Public Service Commission, and is still pending.
It's on the heels of that unresolved increase that customers are upset at the company's newest proposal.
"Stand up for us and require Carolina Water Service to provide appropriate service to its customers and deny the request for a rate increase," said one of the witnesses who delivered sworn testimony in front of the commission Monday night.
Each of the seven commissioners listened as about a dozen customers voiced their unhappiness with the company.
In 2008, the company proposed, and won a rate increase, and most recently in 2011, the company asked commissioners to approve another increase, though that was denied.
The denial led the state Supreme Court to send it back to the Public Service Commission last year.
The newest increase of about 25 percent has customers struggling to catch their breath.
"It's ridiculous and it's been happening for years," said Beverly Miles, a Carolina Water Service customer living in Irmo. "I just want (the Public Service Commission) to stop (Carolina Water Service) from coming up with these increases to fix problems."
State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington County, said she speaks for many of her constituents in opposing the rate increases.
When asked if she believed an increase was warranted in this case, Sen. Shealy said it wasn't.
In Shealy's district, some 8,000 customers stand to see their rates jump, something she said they just cannot afford.
"We've got people out there that have so many complaints about the water system," Shealy said. "They're not getting the things they need."
"These people are unhappy," she said.
The State of South Carolina's Office of Regulatory Staff also believes a 25 percent increase is too much.
The office is a consumer advocate, and Executive Director Dukes Scott said he hopes the Public Service Commission will deny the request.
"They have to base the decision on the record of the case, and in accordance to the law that's been established as far as rate making is concerned," Dukes said. "Within those boundaries, I'm sure they'll reach a reasonable and just decision."
Representatives for Carolina Water Service declined to address concerns brought up at Monday's meeting, choosing to wait for a decision from the Public Service Commission.
After company representatives are given a chance to formally respond in front of the commission on Tuesday, a decision is expected to be reached in March.
The hearing is set to take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Carolina Water Service serves parts of Lexington, Aiken, Beaufort, Richland, Orangeburg, Sumter, Georgetown, Williamsburg and York Counties.