Water utility seeks to charge more after Tennessee wildfires

Water utility seeks to charge more after Tennessee wildfires

October 5th, 2017 by Associated Press in Breaking News

FILE - In this Dec. 9, 2016, file photo, the remains of laundry machines sit on the site of a burned inn near downtown Gatlinburg, Tenn. District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said Friday, June 30, 2017, that two juveniles would no longer face charges for the wildfire because there were other contributing factors, such as strong winds and down power lines, that contributed to the seriousness of the blaze that killed 14 people. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig, File)

Photo by The Associated Press /Times Free Press.

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee water utility wants hundreds of customers to pay more to offset repair costs after last year's deadly wildfires in the Gatlinburg area.

Tennessee Water Service, Inc. projects a net operating loss of more than $72,000 this fiscal year, and estimates that repairing its infrastructure will cost $300,000.

Roughly 90 percent of the company's nearly 600 customers in the Chalet Village area of Gatlinburg lost their homes in last November's fires, which killed 14 people and destroyed nearly 2,500 buildings. The company stopped billing people for four months, and only 76 customers have restarted service. Most of the customers the utility had in the area before the fires remain inactive, denying the company the revenue it needs to recover, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports .

The company has been charging inactive customers nothing, and billing active customers nearly $60 on average. Now it wants to charge inactive customers nearly $25 per month and active customers nearly $70 per month, utility spokeswoman Deborah Clark said. The utility is still evaluating insurance coverage issues, she said.

The utility petitioned the state Public Utility Commission seeking approval to bill customers more. At an Oct. 23 hearing, a panel of three commissioners will decide whether to approve or deny the rate increase, the state Attorney General's Office said.