COMMENT By Bob Weaver 2003

West Virginia's largest water company was just sold to a German conglomerate, and now they are requesting a multi-million-dollar increase.

They said it would be "some time before they asked for an increase," but that was when the deal was being hatched several months ago.

The sell-out of West Virginia water came about because of "free trade" promoted by the American government.

Those who protested the sale of the company to a foreign concern, learned that if the deal got stopped, the protesters would likely end in the International Trade Court, with America in violation of its trade agreements (GATT, NAFTA, WTO, etc.)

The Bush administration will likely be taken to the world court because they recently imposed illegal tariffs to try and save the American steel industry.

What, me worry? Who needs steel produced in America anyway. I use steel tools from all over the world, until they break.

They're cheap.

They can make our tanks in China, our airplanes in Bangladesh and our bombs in North Korea. Well, maybe not North Korea.

Chris Jarrett, president of the state's largest water system, faced aggressive questioning last week by Billy Jack Gregg, head of the Consumer Advocate Division of the state Public Service Commission, over the water rate increase.

The water company asked for a $15.5 million rate increase, 16.4 percent in March. Now the company is seeking a smaller increase of $14.3 million or 15 percent.

Consumer advocate Gregg doesn't think the company deserves any rate increase at all. He says the company's rates are already too high and the state's economy is in bad shape. Gregg said the company should wait.

The company wants to increase penalty fees for late payments, bad checks and re-connection fees.

Billy Jack Gregg presented a scenario of a single mother with children who paid her monthly bill of $36.23 with a bad check. Because she paid near the end of the billing cycle, incurred the late payment fee, then had her water turned off, and she then had to pay a $20 reconnection fee, she would then owe $74.25.

"Does it concern you that these cost-causer charges fall disproportionately on low-income people?" Gregg asked the company president.

"I am concerned as anyone about the less-fortunate people," President Jarrett answered, his heart bleeding, but went on to explain "everyone else is doing it."

"Is it a fact that West-Virginia American has the highest rates for usage of all American Water companies?" Gregg asked.

"Yes, but I don't choose to frame it that way," President Jarrett said. "Usage of our customers is less than elsewhere in the U.S. We are an older community; we have smaller households. It is a function of many factors. If you make that comparison in a vacuum, yes. I simply don't believe you can look at that one figure."

The Kanawha County school system is testifying against the increase.

Martin Glasser, who represents the Kanawha and Putnam county commissions, said "Rates are already high. Affordability is a concern ... The bottom line is ... an increase should be limited to the cost-causers." The three-member commission is expected to reach a decision in the case in the next few months.

The American worker and the fast-fading middle class has mildly whined about the "giant sucking sound," predicted by Ross Perot.

Times-Record editor David Hedges commented last week "You thought all those free trade agreements...were to help the American people to adapt to the new world economy. As it turns out, it looks more like they were only to help the corporations adapt to fleecing the American public."

"Free trade is apparently a one-way street. We lose jobs and get nothing in return. But it's our own government doing it to us."

California is in financial trouble with dozens of other states over jobs that no longer exist that no longer generate taxes. One would think California has it worse than any other state, which is not necessarily true. The screaming recall is obviously a Republican-Democrat battle.

But, thank heavens we have 9-11, weapons of mass destruction, regime change, terrorism, America's largest national debt, and the rebuilding and democratization of Iraq and other foreign countries to worry about.

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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