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Central Kentucky-centric Public Service Commission denies citizen intervention into Utilities, Inc. 50.8% rate increase case




The Kentucky Public Service Commission, made up of three Central Kentucky Commissioners (pictured above)– David
Armstrong of Louisville, James W. Gardner of Frankfort and John W. Clay, the former head of the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, a Fletcher appointee whose term ends in June, decided on May 5th that water company customers in Clinton and Middlesboro would not be allowed to intervene and become full participants in the Utilities, Inc.  50.8% rate increase case.

My application to intervene was one of those denied. PSC Order. The Commission stated that even though I said I had firsthand knowledge of the water company’s billing practices; I failed to state how I gained firsthand knowledge of the Phoenix billing system – outside of the fact that I am a customer.

The Middlesboro intervenors were given even shorter shrift. They couldn’t show they had anything to add that the Attorney General in Frankfort didn't know.




The Commission’s cookie cutter orders citing the same law and administrative regs for the citizen customers told us that we could depend on the Kentucky Attorney General to represent our interests. The Order specifically suggested that we could “keep abreast of the status of the case and filings by monitoring the case’s electronic file located at


The Attorney General has a right to intervene in rate cases. (It won’t be candidate for the US Senate Attorney General Jack Conway personally representing us.)  It will be state lawyers in their rate division with that task. Assistant Attorney General David Spenard will be representing the interests of customers in Clinton and Middlesboro, the only two cities that Utilities, Inc. serves. For all others, the decision to let a citizen intervene is up to the Commission - "permissive" and this time, we customers don't get permission.

One third of the water company’s 900 Clinton customers have either signed a petition or written a letter to the Public Service Commission opposing the proposed increase. Customers in our small, mostly senior citizen and low income, town poured out their hearts to the Commissioners and implored them to come to Clinton to hold a public hearing. As of this date, they haven’t decided.

The delay shouldn’t be surprising. It took them from March 20th to May 5th to deny my motion to intervene.

What the Commission doesn’t say in its Order denying the intervention is whether it has any intention of hearing firsthand public comment from affected customers in Clinton and Middlesboro – two towns far from each other and far from where the Commissioners, the Attorney General and counsel for Utilities, Inc. live and work. The Attorney General may have an “obligation” to intervene and represent the public, but if he loses this case, his water bill will stay the same.

For some customers, losing this case will be disastrous. Camille Hargrove wrote:

“I always have a high bills to pay. I pay what I can. I am on disable.(sic) I try not to use too much water. But yet I have a high water bill. If the bill goes up, I will be lucky to pay them $10.00 instead of $80.00.”

What the Commission Order doesn’t say is that letting citizens participate in a rate case messes up the orderly flow of how these things should go. We, out in the hinterlands, do not GET the natural rhythm that exists for attorneys who regularly litigate against each other – as do the rate case attorneys and counsel for the water company. It is clear that an orderly process triumphs over public participation.

What the Commission Order doesn’t say is that Utilities Inc. and the Attorney General will have a pretrial conference in Frankfort that will not be attended by the very people most affected by their actions.

What the Commission Order doesn’t say is that the mound of documents it has requested the water company to produce will go to the Attorney General and if the public wants to see them, they can either print out several hundreds of pages and sift through the pile of chaff to get to the wheat or they can rely on the Attorney General to do it for them.

What the Commission Order doesn’t say is that the attorney on the Attorney General's staff has other things to do besides worry with Clinton residents who don’t understand why they are still getting three bills a month. The Attorney General does not have the time or manpower to handle every resident who has been misbilled, overbilled, double billed, misread, misinformed and missed out on.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I am very angry- angrier than I would have been had one of the Middlesboro intervenors been allowed to question the water company’s witnesses. I have no beef with Assistant Attorney General David Spenard, who is handling the case. He seems sincere and knowledgeable. But it is just a day job to him. For many of my friends and my fellow residents, the water bill increase is a matter of having water or not having water.

My husband wrote about the screwed up bills in September, 2008 for the Mississippi River Journal. I carried the story here Big City Bills for a Small Town   on September 9, 2008. We reported on the AIG connection then. We will continue to report on the progress of this case. We will be going to Frankfort for any hearings they will let us in to watch.

Make no mistake. Utilities, Inc. won this round. Clinton and Middlesboro lost.

 

But it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

 

 

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