The Athens Review
Henderson County Commissioners Tuesday approved a resolution in support of legislation that allows the county to intervene on behalf of its rural rate-payers in water and sewer rate cases before state regulatory agencies.
The legislation is supported by 4th District State Rep. Lance Gooden and 3rd District State Sen. Robert Nichols, in response to recent rate increases by large water companies doing business in parts of Henderson County and the surrounding area.
Orville Bevel of Chandler said customers of Monarch Water Company and Agua Texas have been hit with higher rates, and those living in the county’s unincorporated areas need help fighting the increases.
“In past years within Henderson County, we have between 8,500 and 9,500 rural customers on Monarch Southwest or Agua Texas,” Bevel said. “When Agua Texas or Monarch sends out a letter, within 60 days, with no action by the state or anyone else, the rural-rate payers are automatically assessed that new rate. The last time, that new rate was a 67-percent increase.”
Bevel said he has seen his water bill in the Wildewood subdivision increase from $16 a month to $75 to $80 since he moved there in 1995.
“These people have a license to steal under the present laws,” Bevel said.
People who live in cities can oppose a rate increase, and force it to go before the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
In addition, Bevel said, the cities at the settlement are allowed to recover their legal and expert witness costs. Ratepayers in rural areas do not.
The proposed legislation will require any of the six largest water companies doing business in the state to notify the county before enacting any water increase on its residents, Bevel said.
“We have to hire our own attorneys. We have to pay our own bills, and we have to go begging for money,” Bevel said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Ken Geeslin agreed that the county should be allowed to step in.
“The water companies have the ability to raise the rates on so many folks with fixed incomes,” Geeslin said. “We, as a county, need to do anything and everything we can to help them.”
The new legislation is not the first time Gooden has spoken against Monarch’s rate practices. When a bill came to the floor in 2011 that would allow water companies like Monarch to raise customers’ rates without a hearing, he halted the legislation with a point-of-order.