Lawmakers call for stability with water and wastewater rates
Anne Harrington is on a fixed income. She’s 88 years old and only runs the dishwasher in her South Scranton home once a week.
"My payment to the church is less and my what I give to my grandchildren is less, so it all ripples right down," she said.
Harrington joined local legislators, state Sen. Marty Flynn, state Reps. Kyle Mullins and Kyle Donahue, and Thom Welby from state Rep. Bridget Kosierowski's office, outside Pennsylvania American Water’s office in Scranton on Monday, Nov. 20. They insisted the utility company take their customer’s finances into consideration.
“The rate increases ... are putting a significant strain on my financial stability," said Harrington.
The water company filed a rate adjustment request on Nov. 8 with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which sets utility rates.
If approved, the average residential customer would pay $17 more a month for water, according to the utility company.
Monthly wastewater bills for residents would either decrease by $5 or increase by $4 depending on the type of service. Wastewater payments would not increase for Scranton and Dunmore residents. The company owns the sewer authority, which serves both municipalities. When the authority was acquired in 2016, PA American Water agreed to a rate freeze, according to a spokesperson.
PA American asked that the rate increase begin Jan. 7. A full investigation of the request could delay the change until August.
"These water and sewage rate increases are more than just figures. They're an unacceptable assault on our local residents, especially working families and our seniors," said Flynn. “The financial strain these increases imposed on our residents is undeniable.”
PA American Water said the increases are necessary.
There is tremendous need for significant and costly improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure in Pennsylvania, said President Justin Ladner in a press release.
The company plans to invest around $1 billion to improve that infrastructure which includes service reliability, water quality and upgrades to treatment facilities, storage tanks, wells and pumping stations. The project will take over 18 months and replace more than 100 miles of aging pipeline.
Welby owns and lives in a small ranch house in South Scranton.
The water company already raised rates this past February. He compared his bill from last November to now. It went up by $82.
After Thanksgiving, the lawmakers will announce a community campaign within Scranton and Dunmore to continue insisting to the water company and the PA Public Utility Commission that the rate increase is unacceptable, not affordable and outrageous, said Flynn.
"We cannot expect our constituents to make a choice between paying their utility bills or affording their essential medicines," he said.
Their constituents cannot be the only ones to hold the water company and the utility commission accountable, said Mullins.
"They've got enough on their plate worrying about how to make ends meet, and how to pay for the already high cost of their bills and goods," he said. "So it's on us then in a large way.”
Statewide, Pennsylvania American Water serves around 680,000 water customers and 97,000 wastewater customers. In just the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area, there are around 140,000 water customers and 30,000 wastewater customers.