Liberty Utilities is asking the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) for permission to increase natural gas rates for customers in Keokuk and Montrose by enough to generate an additional $1 million annually in revenue. Keokuk residents and business owners say such a large increase would harm families and the entire community.
The IUB held a meeting Thursday night at Hawthorne Elementary School in Keokuk to collect public input. Roughly 200 people attended the meeting, which lasted about 90 minutes.
IUB member Nick Wagner said the input collected would serve as testimony as the board considers the request from Liberty Utilities.
“The board's role in this rate case is to oversee the rate-making process, review and weigh the evidence, and come to a decision that ensures safe and reliable natural gas service at a reasonable cost while allowing the utility an opportunity to maintain its financial integrity," said Wagner.
Liberty Utilities is proposing different rate increases for residential, commercial, and industrial customers. There is a temporary rate hike in place, helping Liberty Utilities build revenue while the IUB considers the permanent increase.
“Temporary rates will be effective until the board issues its final decision on the permanent rate request, which is expected to be by May 25, 2017," said Wagner. "If permanent rates are established that are less than the temporary rates, any difference will be refunded to customers with interest.”
A hearing on the requested increase is scheduled for February 22, 2017.
During Thursday night's meeting, 20 people stepped up to the microphone to state their case for the rate hike being dropped or greatly reduced.
Dan Winn: Keokuk Alderman/Local Business Owner
“[Small businesses] will have to adjust their prices to reflect this increase. This type of increase will have a ripple effect throughout our community. [Small business owners] cannot pass along this type of increase. That will negatively impact their business... Keokuk also has a lot of people who are on fixed incomes. They cannot afford this type of residential increase. This type of increase may mean the difference for them whether or not they buy groceries, [pay] for that prescription or [pay] their gas bill during the winter.”
Jamie Veach: CEO of Horner YMCA
“My main concern is not with the YMCA. Our [bill], because of our usage, is not going up a lot like other small businesses like I see represented here. My concern is with the individuals who live in Keokuk. Right now, Lee County has the second highest unemployment rate in the state… I see kids, I see family members who come in the YMCA, right now, we subsidize over $100,000 a year in memberships just so families, so kids can come out of the YMCA to have a place to go to. My concern is not for the YMCA, it’s for these kids in the community [who] are basically on subsidized lunches who need help. Those kids are our future here in the community. Any undue stress we put on the families where they cannot afford to have heat in their home or they can’t afford to put clothes on their kids, that is an undue stress the community faces and I am very concerned about that.
Ben Moser: Keokuk resident
“I must admit when I opened the letter, I did a double-take. I read it about four times because I thought this could not possibly be correct. That being said, whether it is $11/month or $11,000/month, a 45% increase in anything is ridiculous and an 88% increase is insane... especially when you bring it into the business environment we are in right now... Fiscal-logic and reason, unless I am missing something, should completely blow this thing out of the water.”
Doug Matlick: Local Business Owner
"I think the problem is we don’t have enough customers to suit your business model. In my business, if we are struggling, we have to make tough decisions. Maybe we lay off employees. We can’t raise our prices to get out of this mess, it’s not going to change. The second thing is, if we do raise these prices, you will be coming back and seeing us in three years because you will have less customers and you are going to need more money to support the same thing you are still doing... Either you guys need to sell to Mid America, Alliant Energy, maybe a bigger company with more customers to spread this pain, or you need to do some internal housecleaning to figure out how this operation is going to work, besides putting it on our backs because it will only hurt the community even more.”
“I would not be here speaking if it were not for the amount of the rate increase that is being asked. If it was 2%-3%, I would think OK, [the utility has] not had an increase in a while, I can deal with that. I have a moderate income and I have not found a way to increase that income, so to keep steady, I have done away with my internet at home, I have done away with my home phone… I have given up cable television and I have given up my newspaper. So my comment is that if it was a different amount, or a steadily smaller an increase, then someone on a budget who tries to stay steady would be able to deal with that. If you increase as much as you say… it would be a very big burden on a lot of people like me.
You can listen to the entire hearing below.