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by Troy Graham
Lewis County residents could be paying $6 more per month for water within the next three years after two state agencies and the West Virginia-American Water Co. agreed to a rate increase plan last week.
The increase must be approved before Dec. 31 by the state Public Service Commission. The commission will probably consider the deal in the next few weeks, said a PSC spokesman.
If the plan is approved, water bills for the average customer using 4,500 gallons of water a month will increase by $2.68 a month this year and as much as $6 over the three-year period, said Randy Short, with the state PSC's Consumer Advocate Division.
West Virginia-American originally sought a one-year $8.6 million increase. But the company agreed to a $4.5 million increase starting Jan. 1, 1999, Short said. The company will then be allowed to increase rates by 4.5 percent in 2000 and 3 percent in 2001, he said. The total increase will be worth approximately $10.77 million, he said.
The three-year plan will ultimately save customers money compared to the original request made by West Virginia-American, Short said.
"The truth is they would have filed a similar-sized increase next year and a similar-sized increase in 2001," he said.
The rate hikes were granted largely to cover the cost of improvements and expansions to the company's water systems, said Billy Jack Gregg, with the Consumer Advocate Division.
West Virginia-American, which serves all of Lewis County except Jane Lew, is currently building a $13 million plant outside of Weston, said county Administrator Robin Poling. The new plant will have twice the capacity of the 100-year-old plant currently in use, she said.
West Virginia-American is also engaged in similar, aggressive expansion projects across the state. In recent years, the company has acquired several water systems in Putnam and Fayette counties and has started extending lines from Charleston to Boone County and the new Toyota engine factory in Putnam County, Short said.
Poling hopes the for-profit water company will be able to perform similar line expansion projects in Lewis County. Those are projects that are often difficult for the public sector to undertake, she said.
"The grant money isn't that available," she said.