The for-profit company that supplies water to about 600 residents in several subdivisions west of Casper has asked for a rate increase that customers denounced as outrageous and obscene on Monday.

"If you grant this rate increase, the PSC is going to be rewarding the Vista West Water Co., for mismanaging their company for over 40 years," Vista West resident Phil Hills told representatives of the Wyoming Public Service Commission at Casper City Hall during a public comment session.

In its application to the Commission, the Vista West Water Co., claims it needs the rate hike to seek other money and service debt to raise about $5 million to replace aging equipment and to give raises to some of its seven employees.

Without the replacement equipment, company president Paul Lowham said in the application that the water system could experience interruptions of service.

The PSC was represented at the public comment session by commissioner Robin Cooley, legal staff supervisor John Burbridge, and rate analyst Luy Luong.

The Commission regulates the public utilities that provide services to consumers in the state. The three main industries it regulates are electricity, natural gas and telephone, and eight commercial water utilities including the Vista West Water Co.

The PSC has been reviewing the proposed rate increase since December. It will have its formal public hearing in Cheyenne on Nov. 8-9.

The residents are preparing for that.

Ann Robinson, a former state legislator, said the proposed 140 percent rate increase for some and 185 percent for others -- intended to raise $408,000 a year, is the most egregious she's seen in the 40 years she's lived in Vista West III.

The 140 percent increase means those customers will pay $768.96 per year, and those with the 185 percent will pay $1,141.08 per year, Robinson said, "before they use a drop of water."

If the PSC grants the rate hike, it will adversely affect those retired residents on fixed incomes, those with serious illnesses, and young families raising children, she said.

Stuart Ruben said the higher rate increase would cause property values in Vista West to go down as prospective homeowners shun the area. "I think the economic damage to the homeowners that are there now and the other businesses will be substantial and irreparable."

Robinson and others also said the water system was supposed to be transferred to the homeowners after most of the homes were sold in the subdivisions.

Likewise, the Vista West Water Co., was not intended to operate at a profit, but rather to provide water service as close to a break-even cost as possible, they said.

Lowham as the sole shareholder, they added, has used the company to enrich himself without investing much in the water system.

Lowham did not attend the public comment session.

However, the company's attorney Randy Reed of Cheyenne said that the critics' comments were not unexpected.

"I'm sure that Mr. Lowham would take issue with some of the truthfulness of some of the information that's being presented," Reed said. "We're here to consider some of the comments, and will respond appropriately at the public hearing before the Commission in November."

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