A newly released report from a Tennessee state commission does not recommend legislation to cap utility rates paid by unincorporated Piney Flats residents who receive water and sewer service from Johnson City.
Instead, the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) says utility rates should be “both reasonable and justified” and adds whether a customer lives inside or outside the city is not enough on its own to justify a rate difference.
The TACIR report also recommends that outside utility customers could have representation on a utility’s board or be allowed to file rate appeals.
Piney Flats residents, like all non-resident utility customers of Johnson City, are charged rates double those charged city residents.
One resident, Thomas Hubbard II, took exception to that billing practice and asked state Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, to intervene.
Hill filed a bill that would have capped Piney Flats’ rates at 150 percent of rates charged to city residents.
“Water and sewer rates are often much higher for non-resident city customers than for city residents, although they may be comparable to rates paid by utility district customers located outside cities in more rural areas,” TACIR Executive Director Lynnisse Roehrich-Patrick said in a prepared release. “The crux of the matter seems to be that non-resident city customers don’t have the same ability to complain to someone who either answers to them at election time or is independent of the utility.”
Hill said he’ll attempt to incorporate TACIR’s ideas into amending his bill.
“I’m trying to find a voice for those outside the footprint of a municipality,” Hill said. “The TACIR report said it absolutely correct when talking about there needs to be representation on a board or in an appeals process. ... They recognize there’s a problem that needs to be looked at by the General Assembly.”
For an expanded version of this article, please see Tuesday’s print edition or our expanded electronic edition.