By Michael Erb
State Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate John Perdue held a town hall meeting Monday at the Wood County Senior Center to address the issue of ever-increasing utility rates.
About 25 seniors and center staff members attended the 11 a.m. meeting. Perdue spoke briefly about the issues surrounding what he called out-of-control utility rate hikes and the system allowing them to continue.
"We're being squeezed," he said. Despite the constant increases in the cost of electricity, gas and water, "your check doesn't go up. It stays the same."
In 2010 AEP rates increased by 7.8 percent, while the companies profits increased by $1.2 billion. The company's CEO took home $9 million in pay and bonuses, Perdue said. AEP this year already is requesting an 8.9 percent rate increase.
Perdue said these rate hikes, massive profits and ever-increasing bonuses for CEOs are being reported during times of economic hardship for local citizens.
"I think they are making enough profit," he said. "I think it's time they gave back to the citizens of West Virginia."
Perdue asked those in attendance to sign a petition asking for an overhaul of the state's utility board and demanding refunds from the utilities.
The state utility board is comprised of three people from Kanawha County, a body Perdue said does not fairly represent West Virginia's people. Perdue also said the board's consumer advocate works for the board, a conflict of interest he wants rectified.
"We need to get the foxes out of the hen house," he said, adding he would like to see a representative on the board from each of the state's congressional districts. Perdue also said the consumer advocate should be an independent employee not beholden to the board.
Perdue did not answer one attendee's question as to whether he would oppose and attempt to block President Barack Obama's health care plan, but instead said he would favor changes to health care that allowed more home visitation-style services.
"We need more in-home care in our state," he said. "I am for better management of our health care system."