Sturgill Turner utilities and energy attorney James Gardner was quoted in the Herald-Leader’s coverage of the Kentucky Public Service Commission hearing on Friday, where the Martin County Water District argued its case for an emergency rate increase of almost 50 percent. Jim Gardner, former PSC Chairman, and Todd Osterloh, former PSC staff attorney, represent the interests of the Martin County Concerned Citizens, Inc. as co-counsel with the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center on a pro bono basis.
The sitting PSC Chairman called Martin County’s the worst water system in the state, but it would become the second most expensive in the state if the rate increase is granted. The average Martin County Water District customer’s monthly bill would go from $42 per month to $63 per month—a significant increase in a county where 40 percent live in poverty.
The Water District argued that immediate additional revenue is necessary to prevent it from ceasing operation in 4-6 weeks. With over $800,000 in outstanding accounts, the Water District does not have the estimated $13 million required to repair run-down equipment and broken pipes. This follows years of financial mismanagement, water quality concerns, substantial water loss, and even nightly water shut-offs.
Jim, on behalf of the Martin County Concerned Citizens, argued before the PSC that the emergency rate increase is not justified because the Martin County Water District has not met its burden of proof that its credit or operations will be materially impaired or damaged by the failure to permit the rates to become effective. He also suggested that, if the Water District is permitted to increase rates during the pendency of the rate investigation, the Commission should place certain controls on the funding to ensure proper spending and to increase customer confidence.
Jim and Todd became involved with the case at the request of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. The PSC is expected to issue a decision on the emergency rate increase in the near future, but the work will continue for Jim and Todd no matter the result. Regardless of whether the emergency rate increase is allowed, the PSC’s investigation of the reasonableness of the Water District’s proposed rates will move forward.