A state office will provide representation to residents and small business owners affected by Liberty Utilities’ proposed rate change for wastewater service.
The Office of Public Utility Counsel filed a motion to intervene on behalf of residential and small commercial consumers, according to a document filed Thursday.
The utility counsel provides technical, legal and professional representation on behalf of residential and small commercial utility consumers.
More than 800 protest letters have been submitted to the Public Utility Commission of Texas regarding the proposed change. Additional protest letters have been submitted to the city of Tyler.
The letters come after the company earlier this month proposed rates that would more than triple some customers’ monthly bills by next March.
The company, which operates as Woodmark Sewer and Tall Timbers Sewer in Smith County, is justifying the change by citing increased operating expenses and past and future capital improvement projects.
The city has original jurisdiction over the rate application for customers living inside the city limits and can reject proposed rate increases.
The Public Utility Commission of Texas has original jurisdiction over the rate application for customers living in Smith County.
If either entity receives protest forms - these forms were included in the rate proposal information sent to customers - amounting to at least 10 percent of the utility company’s customers in their jurisdiction before the 91st day after the proposed effective date, which is Jan. 30, 2017, a hearing will be set.
It appears this threshold already has been met for both entities. However, neither has scheduled a hearing yet.
Last week, the city rejected the company’s application as “administratively incomplete,” in part because the company owes the city more than $31,000 for legal expenses related to a 2009 case.
The city estimates 496 Tyler residents rely on Liberty Utilities for wastewater services. Liberty Utilities serves almost 3,800 customers in Smith County, including Tyler customers, through Liberty Woodmark and Liberty Tall Timbers.
As proposed, Tyler homeowners served by Liberty Utilities would see their monthly rate for wastewater services go from $27.75 per month to $76.54 on Nov. 1 and $96.38 on March 1, 2017.
The November rate would be more than double the current rate. The March rate would be more than triple.
Smith County homeowners served by Liberty Utilities outside the Tyler city limits pay $54.93 or $66.92 per month, depending upon where they live.
Under the proposed rate change, these customers would see a rate increase of 14 percent or 39 percent their current rates in November and 44 percent or 75 percent their current rates by March, depending upon where they live.
Though the numbers provided here focus on single-family homes, rates for apartments, mobile home parks, businesses, schools and any other building serviced by this company also would be affected.
If the proposed rate takes effect but is ultimately reduced or voided by the Public Utility Commission, county customers could be eligible for refunds of any increases paid in the interim.