Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

With Steep Hikes for St. Louis County, Missouri-American Water Company Proposal Attracts Criticism, Skepticism

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

With Steep Hikes for St. Louis County, Missouri-American Water Company Proposal Attracts Criticism, Skepticism

Article excerpt

Facing a proposed rate increase of 45 to 48 percent for water and sewer service, residential St. Louis County customers of the Missouri-American Water Co. voiced plenty of opposition to the utility's revenue request in public hearings this week.

The company, though, says more money is needed for infrastructure improvements a point it said is underscored by the single-month record of more than 1,000 water main breaks in St. Louis County in January.

"It was the ice-cold water hitting very old infrastructure," said Brian Russell, a spokesman for the company.

"We want to be able to replace that stuff more expediently," he added. "We're a long way from finished."

The utility, which serves most of St. Louis County and parts of St. Charles County in addition to other swaths of the state, is seeking approval from regulators at the Missouri Public Service Commission for a $75 million jump in revenue for water and wastewater service.

Rates for residential, metered quarterly customers in the area would increase by 45 to 48 percent under the proposed plan, including growth of a fixed charge from $22.35 to $30. Most area customers are billed quarterly, though the utility said it hopes to transition more to monthly billing, after expansion of "advanced metering infrastructure" that can wirelessly transmit usage data and enable more regular readings.

But residents and consumer advocates have a number of concerns with the company's rate proposal many of which came up at public hearings held by the PSC around the St. Louis area this week.

Many argue that the increase would place an unfair burden on the company's 340,000 customers in St. Louis County, suggesting that it asks them to essentially "subsidize" costs across Missouri-American's service territory.

"Particularly for St. Louis County residents, they're shouldering the vast majority of this increase," said Geoff Marke, chief economist with the state Office of Public Counsel, which stands up for consumer interests in rate cases.

Marke also echoed the widespread criticism expressed at public hearings that ballooning fixed costs would disincentivize water conservation and distort the general ratemaking principle of "you pay for what you use. …

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