by Phil Stilton
TOMS RIVER-A proposed water rate hike by United Water, serving Berkeley and Toms River Townships was cut in half after local officials lobbied the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) against the increase. The BPU asked for an increase of 17%, but were approved for just 8.4% after officials memorialized local public outcry in the form of resolutions of protest by the two township councils.
The increase will impact the average customer’s bill by $3.52 per month, down from the proposed $7.57 per month.
Both Toms River and Berkeley Township municipal councils drafted and approved resolutions in opposition to the rate hike, the fourth since 2008.
“The Board’s approval is an equitable settlement,” said Jim Mastrokalos, United Water’s Director of Operations. “We acknowledge the BPU staff, rate counsel, and our internal and external teams
for their diligent work and combined efforts in aligning our customers’ interests and needs along with the necessity to recover $22 million the company invested in critical system improvements.”
Berkeley Township Mayor Carmen Amato also applauded the BPU’s decision, but said United Water’s increase is unfair to the utility’s customers.
“I’m pleased the BPU listened to our struggling ratepayers by cutting the proposed 18% increase to just about half,” Amato said. “However, we strongly feel a 9% increase is still to high. Towns, school districts and county governments must live with in a 2% cap. Utility companies should be held to the same standards.”
“They got half of what they asked for, so I thought that was a victory,” said Toms River Councilman George Wittman said. “Instead of paying $7 per month extra, it went down to $3.50 per average bill.”
The company serves approximately 125,000 customers in Toms River and Berkeley.
Amato said the BPU is long overdue for local representation as no citizen of the county sits on the public utilities oversight board.
“This approval will be United Water’s fourth rate increase since 2009. This is unacceptable,” Amato added. “I respectfully request the governor considers appointing someone from Ocean County to the BPU when there is an opening. Ocean County needs a voice on the BPU so we can be represented during these rate cases.”
“We had a little bit of an impact on it. It wasn’t a lot of money, but we reduced the overall increase by half,” Wittman added.