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Freeholders: NJ Natural Gas 24% Rate Hike ‘Unconscionable’

A New Jersey Natural Gas service bill. (File Photo)

A New Jersey Natural Gas service bill. (File Photo)

The Ocean County freeholders are joining a chorus of public officials decrying a proposed 24 percent rate hike by New Jersey Natural Gas.

As a group of mayors, including Brick mayor John Ducey, held a news conference in Belmar to speak out against the proposal, which must still be approved by the state Board of Public Utilities, the Ocean County freeholders took time out of a work session meeting Wednesday to plan a formal resolution against the rate increase.

“It’s unconscionable to raise it 24 percent,” said Freeholder Joseph Vicari, who told his colleagues on the five-member board that he already hears stories of senior citizens going without heat and hot water because they can’t afford gas service.

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“If you need to raise rates 24 percent, you don’t give your CEO a million dollars,” Vicari added, referencing a bone of contention many officials have with the company’s executive compensation.

The 24 percent figure is an average. The company has said a customer who uses 100 therms of energy for heating would see their bill rise by about 22 percent to $117.91 a month from $96.22 – a $21.69 increase. Overall, a customer’s annual bill would rise about 24 percent, from $987 to $1,215. The company says the increase is due to over $800 million worth of improvements it has made to its system. NJNG is also proposing the Southern Reliability Link which would link its pipelines to an interstate line that runs alongside the New Jersey Turnpike and improve reliability for customers, including Joint Base MDL.

Freeholder John Bartlett, however, said the company should have had a long-term capital plan in place to make improvements and should operate under the method of deriving income from investments rather than raising bills to fund future projects.

Vicari said another one of his concerns was that many families would not be able to sustain the increase, leaving them with the decision to forgo natural gas service or turn to government energy assistance.

“It’s going to put more people in that category where they can’t pay for natural gas,” Vicari said.

The freeholders’ resolution will be sent to the company and the state Board of Public Utilities. Customers who want to speak out on the rate hike will be able to have their say at several meetings the BPU is planning. The first will be held April 19 and 4 p.m. at the Rockaway Township municipal complex, 65 Mount Hope Road, Rockaway. The second meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. the same day at the same location. The second pair of meetings will take place April 27 at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at the Freehold Township municipal complex, 1 Municipal Plaza, Freehold.