Residents can offer feedback on Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority’s proposed rate increases for water and sewer conveyance at a series of public hearings this week.
Comments made at the meetings will form an important part of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission’s evaluation of PWSA’s requested rate hike, said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, the commission’s press secretary.
“Never having seen this PUC process play out for PWSA, [people] might think that they don’t have a voice, but it is exactly the opposite,” he said. “We want people to speak up ... it becomes part of the official record in the case.”
The four meetings scheduled by the PUC will be led by an administrative law judge who will help evaluate PWSA’s rate case, which was filed in early July.
The rate case and public input hearings are part of becoming a PUC-regulated utility. PWSA came under PUC oversight in April after the general assembly passed Act 65. As a result, PWSA must justify charging higher rates, said Hagen-Frederiksen.
“[They have] the burden of coming to the commission with a formal request,” he said. “They have to demonstrate a need.”
PWSA’s board of directors approved increases for 2018, 2019 and 2020 in November, but only the 2018 rate hike stands, since it preceded PUC oversight.
The board-approved rates would have increased customer bills by an average of 55 percent, but the increase sought under PUC is lower, said Will Pickering, the authority’s public affairs manager.
However, “we need resources to act on various infrastructure and service improvements that we plan to make over the next several years,” he said.
Those include things such as upgrading the water treatment plant, reservoirs and water storage tanks, and ongoing lead line replacement.
There are two ways to offer comments at the input hearings: informally and off the record or under oath and on the record. The latter has staying power as the case is reviewed, said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen.
A number of parties such as Pittsburgh United have filed as “intervenors” in the PWSA rate request case. That means they’ll be a part of evidentiary hearings and participate in the official legal progression of the case. A determination on whether or not PWSA can raise rates, and by how much, will be made in March of 2019.