CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia AARP members plan to hold West Virginia American Water to its promise not to raise rates before 2015."We're going to see if we can hold them to that," said Gaylene Miller, AARP's West Virginia director. "We will be keeping an eye on that."Last year, the water company agreed not to ask for a rate hike until January 2015, after the Public Service Commission approved a 7 percent increase that took effect in October.Water customers and some state officials have speculated the company might seek to raise rates sooner to recoup costs related to the Jan. 9 chemical spill and water shutdown."If the cleanup is what we understand it's going to be, and it results in higher rates, it's not going to just impact people affected by the water crisis; It will affect all West Virginia American customers," Miller said.AARP leaders plan to work with the Public Service Commission's Consumer Advocate Division to ensure that West Virginia American Water -- which already has some of the highest water rates in the state -- keeps its pledge not to seek an increase before next year.Miller said West Virginia seniors -- many on fixed incomes -- couldn't afford another water rate hike."Folks are struggling to make ends meet as it is," Miller said.
AARP also will keep a close eye on legislation designed to regulate chemical storage tanks like the one that leaked chemicals into the Elk River and prompted the "do-not-use" water order, Miller said."We need to be very cognizant that these kinds of storage tanks are located along a lot of our waterways," she said. "It's not just a Kanawha Valley issue. We look at it as a statewide issue."Also Thursday, AARP unveiled its legislative agenda. The group plans to support:More state funding for programs designed to provide in-home services for seniors who want to stay at home. "No one should be forced out of their home to receive the care and assistance they need," Miller said.Legislation that would create a state-run "voluntary employee retirement account" program for private-sector employees in West Virginia. The program would be similar to a self-funded 401K retirement account. The state would not match employee contributions.Measures that would strengthen prosecution of criminals who exploit and defraud older West VirginiansAARP has nearly 300,000 members in West Virginia.