Howell residents speak out about proposed increase in water rates

Residents who showed up at the Howell municipal building on the evening of Jan. 10 voiced their opposition to New Jersey American Water’s petition for approval of increased rates and charges for waste water service.

The company has filed a petition seeking to increase rates for water and waste water services, and to change its depreciation rates and to implement other tariff revisions, according to a notice from the company. The increase could be 17.54 percent, which would increase the company’s revenue by $129 million.

A public hearing gave interested parties the opportunity to testify on the record about the company’s petition for higher rates. Judge Susan M. Scarola of the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law presided over the hearing in Howell’s meeting room.

“The purpose of this hearing is to provide members of the public with the opportunity to comment upon New Jersey American Water’s pending petition before the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU),” Scarola said.

Attorney Ira Megdal attended on behalf of New Jersey American Water and attorney Susan McClure attended on behalf of the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel (previously the New Jersey Division of the Ratepayer Advocate). A representative from the BPU was also in attendance.

Howell resident Barbara Dixel was the first member of the public to speak. She said the Howell Township Council passed a resolution voicing its opposition to the rate increase. Dixel said she sent the resolution to Chris Christie, who concluded his term as governor on Jan. 16, and to Gov. Phil Murphy, who took office that day.

In its resolution, the council said the increase would add to the overall financial burden of water consumers and would have a negative financial impact on Howell residents who are serviced by New Jersey American Water.

Dixel spoke on behalf of 1,000 residents of The Villages adult community in Howell. She said the proposed rate increase will hurt senior citizens.

She described how New Jersey American Water acquired a previous water company that served The Villages. Dixel said that after an initial decrease in rates, residents have seen increases about every two years since 1999.

Dixel said that over the years, she has questioned the quality and taste of water in The Villages. She said she has advised her fellow residents to buy water filters for their kitchen sink and shower heads.

“For years I have had calls from residents who have not only had bad tasting water, but have also had black crud coming from the faucet. In the summer I get a black sludge ring in the toilet,” she said.

Linda Rosen, a resident of the Surrey Downs adult community in Howell, said she could “echo everything” Dixel said, but she told the hearing officer her primary concern was the additional charges she pays on top of the water rates.

“If you use a small amount of water, I happened to use only $6.20 worth of water this month, but I paid over $48 … I had additional charges of $13.60 for the service, why do I have to pay double?

“Then I had an additional charge for the sewer which was $5.51 for usage, but my service charge was an additional $5.69. I had additional surcharges for water, sewage and water meter charges (which was) an additional $10.27,” she said.

“Every month we are penalized for using the water and sewer. We do not flush our toilets, we let them sit until it gets to the point where we have to flush them because when you flush your toilet you wind up having to pay a higher bill that month, Rosen said. “We buy bottled water. We are paying for water, but we also have to supplement our water.”

Rosen said she believes that if New Jersey American Water sees a tax reduction as a result of recent changes in federal law, that money should go back to the customers.

“This is a very bad time in the United States for senior citizens, period. Everyone is threatening to take our Social Security away, they are threatening to cut our incomes right and left,” she said.

Concerns about water quality were also expressed by residents Clara Fitzgerald and Aaron Dixon.

Dixon said he asked himself “where does it end?” when he heard about the proposed rate increase.

“It really shocks me that everyone here who is living on a set income, you do not have a voice to go to your employer and ask for a 10, 15 or 20 percent increase, I certainly do not.

“Yes, I might be working, but my income does not go up that much each year and it is not fair for us to have to see that increase on something like (water) that we use and we do not have another choice. This is a monopoly, you all know it, I know it. You only have one option,” Dixon said.

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