NASHVILLE — While state officials have agreed to hold Tennessee-American Water Co.’s entire rate case hearing in Chattanooga again this year, local residents shouldn’t get used to the idea.
Tennessee Regulatory Authority Chairman Tre’ Hargett said he doesn’t mind conducting the service hearing in a community, which gives the residents a say about the regulated utility’s request and quality of service.
But Mr. Hargett noted that holding a full-fledged hearing — which also includes several days of presentations, questioning and arguments by attorneys and witnesses for regulated utilities and opponents — is costly.
“This is a significant expenditure to our agency in my opinion,” Mr. Hargett said. “I don’t want the expectation to be that we’re going to conduct full hearings in a community. But to be honest, this is a situation where a community has asked us to do this.”
A state hearing on Tennessee-American Water Co.’s proposed 20.58 percent rate increase includes a two-hour public comment session that will take place Monday, Aug. 18, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Hamilton County Courthouse. Another public comment session is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 19, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m.
According to TRA spokeswoman Jessica Johnson, the state’s cost for holding last year’s four-day hearing on Tennessee-American in Chattanooga came to $14,247.05. That included lodging for the three TRA directors who heard the case as well as staff. Other incidentals such as food and travel expenses also are factored into the cost.
Mr. Hargett, who was confirmed to a six-year term on the TRA by lawmakers in February, said he “can’t find where it (entire hearing) has ever happened” outside Nashville. But he noted that “I’m sure it has at some point in time.”
This spring, the Hamilton County Commission passed a resolution urging the TRA again to hold at least part of the proceedings in Chattanooga.
Acting on a motion by TRA Director Eddie Roberson, who grew up in Chattanooga, Mr. Hargett and Director Mary Freeman joined Mr. Roberson in saying the hearing will be held in Chattanooga.
Tennessee-American’s request for a 20.58 percent increase in rates is being fought by the state’s consumer affairs office as well as Chattanooga and the Chattanooga Manufacturers Association.
Tennessee-American President John Watson said he looks forward to having the company’s case presented and rebutting “misinformation being put out.”
“I think we welcome having the hearings taking place in Chattanooga,” he said.
Opponents are gearing up. A citizen’s group calling itself Fight the Hike, headed by Chattanooga businessman Randy Baker, has started a Web site (www.fightthehike.org) that urges Tennessee-American customers to flood the Hamilton County Courthouse for the public comment session.
“I hear more and more conversations about it,” Mr. Baker said of the increase.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...