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‘They just can’t afford it’: Martin County water customers looking at possible rate increase

Published: Apr. 20, 2021 at 8:14 PM EDT
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INEZ, Ky. (WYMT) -Martin County’s concerned citizens are asking to be heard, saying they are tapped dry, but their water concerns are still pouring in.

A recent proposed emergency rate increase of 11.7 percent from the Martin County Water District has many people in the area begging for change. After years of issues with the water in the county, people who rely on it consider the idea of a rate increase to be a “joke.”

During one of two meetings hosted by the Martin County Concerned Citizens (MCCC) group last, chairperson Nina McCoy said it comes down to pushing for what the people deserve.

”They want to say, ‘Oh, you people. You just keep expecting too much,’” she said to the people in attendance. “No, we don’t. We’re expecting what’s right.”

McCoy said local leaders need to step up to help the county out of the hard spot it finds itself in, instead of asking the community ratepayers to take on the burden.

”I have a fear that what’s gonna happen here is that we’re gonna go backward,” said McCoy. “We have actually come a long way, with the help of Mary Cromer. We’ve come a long way in getting listened to. In that the citizens of the county have finally been paid attention to.”

The district sent a proposed adjustment request to the Public Service Commission April 1 and MCCC’s leaders- after filing a request for intervention- are asking the people of Martin County to send in requests of their own.

”They need to hear your voices, said Appalachian Citizens Law Center Deputy Director Mary Cromer. “Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s you or your neighbors talking about that it might be hard to pay your water bill sometimes. That your making decisions about whether you’re gonna pay water or rent or medical bills.”

Cromer said the PSC postponed the decision, pending a hearing to discuss the customer concerns.

According to the ruling by the PSC, requests for intervention must be filed no later than April 23, 2021. Requests for information have to be filed no later than May 6, 2021. The District must file its responses to requests for information no later than May 20, 2021.

The hearing for the emergency rate relief is set for May 27, 2021.

Cromer said now is the time for people in the county to place any complaints or concerns in the hands of the PSC.

“You need to be letting the PSC know what it means to you and your families to be facing another rate increase,” Cromer said. “They need to hear that, for many people here, it is just not affordable. They just can’t keep coming back to the customers again and again and again and asking for more money. It is just not working.”

McCoy said many people think the community complaints are exaggerated. And though she believes many places in the county are in a better place than they started, no one knows the water system like the people who live with it every day.

”It’s a matter of being heard for what you know happens to you,” said McCoy.

In an interview with WYMT Monday, Cromer said MCCC is still asking for help from the community to make the letters pour in.

“We have an opportunity to really let the public service commission know how unaffordable the rates are already and how, just that the people can’t keep looking at rate increases. They just can’t afford it,” Cromer said. “The people in the community see that and they know that that’s happening and they’re just really concerned that they’re still having all of these quality problems. And, yet, you know, they’re being asked to pay more.”

But, she said, the problems are still there and the people of Martin County should not be paying more for service that has not improved enough to warrant it.

“They’re still having so many problems with water outages and line breaks. And, so, we’re hearing from people. You know, they’re still having trouble with water pressure in their house either being you high or too low, with water quality after line breaks,” said Cromer. “We definitely feel Alliance is working really hard to try to keep after the breaks, but they just keep happening.”

She said the management group should tap into a different resource to make improvements, instead of asking more from the people who rely on the service.

“We need to start looking at other mechanisms to make sure that the water district has enough money,” Cromer said.

The emergency hearing on May 27 is just the first step in the process. Cromer said the PSC will consider the public comments and other studies to determine an interim rate, which will later be followed up with more research and a final decision.

“It’s important for people to realize this is kind of a long process,” she said. “There will likely be a second hearing and it will once again be important for the PSC to hear from (rate payers) again.”

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