WESTFALL - “Total disaster” was the description given by Bill Shane. Customers of Pike County Power and Light in the Milford-Westfall area have been saying that about a huge January rate increase, but Shane is one of five members of the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission. About 400 people turned out Monday at the Delaware Valley High School auditorium as Shane and Commission Vice-Chairman James Cawley hosted a “public input session” as part of an investigation into the rate increase. As a five-year, state-imposed cap on rate increases ended last year, Pike Power held a controversial auction last summer to determine its new electricity rates. Pike Power’s parent company, Orange and Rockland Utilities, was one of only two bidders, and won the auction. The resulting rate costs, set when energy costs generally were at all-time highs, prompted an announced average 73-percent rate increase. Consumers have reported that actual billings produced increases as high as 129 percent. Shane said that free-market competition and lower prices were the premise for re restructuring or de-regulating, of the utility industry. Other auctions similar to the Pike Power auction had worked on three occasions, but “it’s been a total disaster here.” Repeatedly couching his comments with, “don’t get your hopes up yet,” Shane said commission members have been making inquiries about other energy providers entering the Pike market. “Two commission members,” he added, “have been spending quality time with your neighboring utilities. But we can’t put guns to their heads. We can’t force them. We’re trying to supply incentives.” Cawley assured the audience that the Commission was concerned. “We regard this as extremely serious.” Local government officials, business people and residential consumers painted in the domino-like economic impacts the rate hike has caused, most detailing their testimony with comparative bills, before and after the rate increase. Delaware Valley Schools Business Manager Bill Hessling’s testimony foretold new taxes as he told of a likely $218,000 annual cost increase at the Westfall campus. Dave Wilson, who sits on the county industrial and economic development authorities, said new businesses are already shying away from locating in the area. Ed Nikles Jr. said his families office rental and lease business was suffering because existing leases can’t be updated with the new rates and new clients won’t pay the higher rates. Shohola Township sent concerns that centralized government and school costs in the Milford-Westfall area would hurt the taxpayers county-wide . Orange and Rockland officials attended the hearing, but did not testify.”I’m sure we’ll get a fair hearing from the commission,” Vice-President James O’Bbrien said. “I can assure you that this problem will be solved,”Cawley said. The commission is expected complete their investigation and announce their findings this month.