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Four dollar/month increase panics Pine Bluff

By Bobbie Crockett/OF THE COMMERCIAL STAFF

A decision on United Water Arkansas Inc.'s proposed rate increase is expected by mid-July.

Proposed increases for residential, industrial and other customers range from 2.1 percent to 17 percent based on meter size and usage.

Pine Bluff residents had an opportunity to comment on the proposal during a public comment hearing before Burl Rotenberry, an administrative law judge, on June 24.

The Arkansas Public Service Commission has granted Rotenberry the authority to make a decision in the case, said Cody Hiland, rule and commodity liaison for the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

That decision is expected by the middle of this month, he said, adding that any appeal would go before the three-member PSC.

The general staff of the PSC has been reviewing documents and doing research in the rate case over the last several months.

The staff, which operates independently of the commission, reached a tentative settlement agreement with the utility on June 21.

By law, a utility company is entitled to a reasonable rate of return on its investment in addition to the expenses.

Under the settlement proposal, the overall rate increase for residential customers would be 15.32 percent. A resident with a 5/8-inch water meter paying $24.57 per month would see their water bill increase by $3.80 to $28.37.

United Water officials have said the utility has not had a rate increase since 1997 and that it needs to keep up with rising costs. The hike, which would affect 19,000 Pine Bluff customers, would generate $927,834 annually.

Here's a look at how some bills would change based on customer class and meter size:

* 5/8-inch residential meter

current bill: $30.98

proposed bill: $35.69

increase: $4.71 or 15.2 percent

* 1 1/2-inch commercial and apartments meter

current bill: $162.34

proposed bill: $167.05

increase: $4. 71 or 2.9 percent

* 2-inch industrial meter

current bill: $268.70

proposed bill: $305.06

increase: $36.36 or 13.5 percent

* 2-inch public authority meter

current bill: $287.48

proposed bill: $301.28

increase: $13.80 or 4.8 percent