Washington County, Florida --
Sunny Hills residents, angry about a possible utility increase from Aqua Utilities Florida, showed up at a public service commission hearing yesterday morning.
Aqua, which provides water and sewer for more than 20,000 customers in 17 Florida counties, is requesting a standard rate increase, which could mean a 30 to 60 percent rate increase in Sunny Hills and that may be too expensive for some residents to afford.
Dozens showed up for the October 14 public meeting to oppose Aqua Utilities request for a rate increase.
"We can't afford these outrageous water rates, we need to have some kind of help regarding that," one resident said.
The Florida Office of Public Counsel estimates the proposed rate increase could cause utility bills to go up 34 to 60 percent.
"Most of us are on fixed incomes here in Sunny Hills and for them to ask for a 34% increase is ludicrous because most of us can't afford the bills that are coming in now," said Sharon Bahr, a Sunny Hills Resident.
Aqua’s last approved rate increase was in 2008. Aqua representatives attended the meeting but did not speak, but residents did. Public Service Commission representatives listened to their complaints about their current utility cost.
"My rate has doubled moving from Panama City to here, if it was done again, I would not move to Sunny Hills," said Johnny Washington, another resident. Washington and his fiancée Linda Rollins said that their bill jumped from $114 to more than $360 in only 3 months.
Rollins stopped watering their lawn to save money.
"I can't afford to pay this high utility; it's higher than my electric bill." Rollins said.
Aqua says it needs this latest rate request to cover the increased operating costs and earn a fair rate of return on their investment, but residents say it’s coming at their expense.
"These are the people you should be looking out for, instead of the special interests as they like to say your investments."
Many residents left the hearing feeling like they won’t get any relief from their current situation.
The Public Service Commission will hold eight more public meetings in Aqua’s service area before voting on the rate request in February.
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