FREEHOLDER DIRECTOR GARGANIO TARGETS SOUTH JERSEY GAS
Says Company’s Petition For 14 Percent Rate Increase Impacts
Evesham, Medford, Medford Lakes, Shamong, Tabernacle and Woodland
Calls on Judge to Reject the Company’s Petition
Two years after he spearheaded a successful campaign against New Jersey American Water’s bid for a 20 percent rate increase, Freeholder Director Bruce Garganio today finds himself confronting another major utility seeking hefty rate increases, namely, South Jersey Gas.
Today Garganio sent a sharply worded letter to an administrative law judge, in which he strongly protested the company’s bid for a 14.4 percent rate increase. Judge William Todd Miller is slated to hold a hearing on the company’s petition in Atlantic City on September 29th.
“Everyone can agree – especially in this current economic environment – that an increase of 14 percent is over-the-top for families which have struggled through a major recession,” wrote Garganio. “If we are being perfectly honest, this constitutes price gouging under any conditions.”
“Burlington County constitutes a relatively small number of the reported 362,000 customers served by South Jersey Gas, which includes portions of Evesham, Medford, Medford Lakes, Shamong, Tabernacle and Woodland. It is on behalf of these households that I am protesting this rate hike.”
Garganio, referring to his past experience fighting American Water, also set his sights on “the muddled bureaucracy that keeps ratepayers totally in the dark.”
He said that the rate increase petitions are difficult for the average person to understand, that ratepayers do not receive notices of hearings, and that the Rate Counsel, which is charged with protecting the consumer, typically works behind the scenes, “cutting deals with the companies.”
“Would you believe that not even the BPU (Board of Public Utilities) takes public comment at its meetings until after it has granted the increase?”
He told Judge Miller that the matter before him was just one of four petitions that South Jersey Gas has filed with the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) over the past seven months, three of which call for an increase in rates.
“The unfortunate reality is that few, if any ratepayers, are aware of any of these requests,” said Garganio, “and this pattern of utility companies slipping these arcane petitions past consumers really must end.”
“By way of example, South Jersey Gas recently held a public hearing on its other three petitions,” he wrote. “Not even the media picked up on that one.”
The irony, he said, is that the State’s two other major gas suppliers, New Jersey Natural Gas and Public Service Electric and Gas, have recently announced they are cutting their rates.
“To put this in perspective, local and county governments must stay within a two percent CAP on taxes and spending,” he continued. “Against that backdrop we have cut property taxes in Burlington County more than $24 million since 2008.
“For five years we have been battling to help people pay their mortgages and utility bills and stay in their homes. Utility companies need to sharpen their pencils as well.”
As for the regulatory side, Garganio noted that the 8th District legislators, Senator Dawn Marie Addiego and Assembly Members Chris Brown and Marie Rodriguez-Gregg, have introduced a four-bill package to improve the notification and hearing process.
He said the legislation calls for “hearing notices to be included in monthly utility bills and for the BPU to hear directly from the public before it rubberstamps a deal prearranged by the utility and Rate Counsel.”