Columbia, SC (WLTX) --  A state agency will now serve as a second set of eyes in a proposed sewer rate hike by Palmetto Utilities.

January 21, the South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs (SCDCA) petitioned to intervene in a rate increase request filed by the utility company.

At the start of the year, Palmetto Utilities customers in Richland and Kershaw counties received a letter in the mail saying their sewer rates were about to skyrocket nearly 28% if approved by the Public Service Commission (PSC).

The monthly bill would change from $52.10 to $66.62.

RELATED: Proposed sewer rate hike stuns Palmetto Utilities customers

In our initial report Sunday night, company officials explained why.

"In 2017 is when we went in to file for the rate increase based on the $80 million that we had already invested in making improvements in our Waste Treatment System. That included a number of different things. We expanded our Waste Treatment Plant, we had to build a northern pipeline to take the discharge to the Wateree. There were a number of different things," said Andrena Powell-Baker, Senior Manager of Community Relations & Development for Lockhart Power, a Pacolet Milliken Company. 

Palmetto Utilities is also looking to start charging a fee for residents who tamper with company facilities and equipment.

Now, the SCDCA is stepping in.

The agency advocates for customers and brings in experts to investigate if a potential rate increase is fair or not.

"They look at reasonableness, they look at fairness. How are the costs being allocated among the different groups that get the service from the utility? They're looking at the methods that were used by the utility when they're calculating how much they think their investors should get back," said Carri Grube Lybarker, Administrator and Consumer Advocate for the SCDCA. "So really looking at the last time things were filed and the percentage, the amount of the hike, are the main factors at this point." 

In the last two months, the agency took on two cases. 

Blue Granite's proposed water rate hikes in December, and now Palmetto Utilities proposed sewer rates this month.

RELATED: Dept. of Consumer Affairs, lawmakers concerned about proposed Blue Granite water rate increase

"Taking a look at everything that comes through and the percentage of the hike," said Lybarker. "The big jump of 28% was really the main factor in us looking to get involved in our first solely sewer case."

Once the experts finish their investigation, they will eventually present their findings in a hearing with the PSC.

Wednesday, the PSC granted public request for a night hearing on the matter.  Staff members are working to find a suitable location.

"I think it's really important for folks to let the Public Service Commission hear of their concerns," said Lybarker. "We often know, especially for our senior population, whenever you see increases in regular charges, they're on a fixed income. So folks need to hear about that. How will this actually impact you? Because no expert can really tell the story like the consumer can."

This proposed rate hike is still in the early stages. You can still make your voice heard on the matter. 

Officials with the Public Service Commission tell News 19, along with speaking at public hearings, customers can file a Letter of Protest

Senior Managers for the company will be present at three Town Hall meetings to discuss the proposed rate increase:

  • Tuesday, January 28, 2020 - North Springs Park Community Center - 1320 Clemson Road - Columbia, SC 29229 - 3:30pm – 5:00pm
  • Tuesday, January 28, 2020 - North Springs Park Community Center - 1320 Clemson Road - Columbia, SC 29229 - 6:00pm – 7:30pm
  • Wednesday, January 29, 2020 - Lake Carolina Elementary School - 1261 Kelly Mill Road - Blythewood, SC 29016 - 6:00pm – 7:30pm

April 28, Palmetto Utilities will announce its case to the PSC.

If the rate hike is approved, it will show up on customers' bills around early June.