TYLER - Just when Liberty Utilities customers thought their bills would not increase, a town hall meeting hosted by the president of the company said otherwise.
After several months of controversy and complaints of a lack of transparency, Liberty Utilities President Matthew Garlick hosted a town hall meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn in Tyler. Tonight's meeting was for those impacted outside of the city limits. Several hundred people showed up and voiced their opinions.
According to a press release sent out by Liberty Utilities, the purpose of the meeting was to, "[determine] the next steps regarding future rates and services for customers," but the company is proposing the same price increase.
Just last month, Garlick announced the price hike on sewer bills for these East Texans was suspended.
Rates are once again proposed to increase anywhere from 42 to 247 percent by the completion of two phases. Phase one would go into effect on Jan. 1, followed by phase two beginning in March.
"This was just a ploy to buy some time," said Texas State Representative Matt Schaefer.
He said Liberty Utilities should have showed up with information for East Texans and answer questions, even if they were difficult. Schaefer also said Garlick was unable to control the meeting.
"They were unprepared to do that," he said. "They really didn't come with a lot of the information the public wanted to hear."
One question asked time and time again was why rates being proposed are so much higher than anywhere around. Customer Brandon Craft said Liberty Utilities is triple the rate, and well above average, of surrounding areas.
"There's no compromise," he said. "They're trying to come back to the table and act like the nice guys, but at the end of the day, nothing has changed."
The suspension for the original price hike ends on Dec. 31, which is why rates are now scheduled to increase on Jan. 1.
Originally, the first phase of the project was scheduled for Nov. 1. Phase two was scheduled for March 1, 2017. Both phases together for the new wastewater services increase would cost around $3 million, a cost Garlick said is justified.
"We are going to be making sure everything Liberty Utilities does is challenged because these rates on their face are price gouging," Schaefer said.
There is a town hall meeting for those inside the city limits scheduled for tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn in Tyler.