Franklin Council raises electric rates 7 percent

Published 10:10 am Tuesday, August 9, 2011

FRANKLIN—The Franklin City Council voted 5-1 Monday night to raise electric rates by seven percent.

Councilman Greg McLemore dissented and Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson was absent.

The vote followed a public hearing, with four residents opposing the increase and asking council to look at other ways to increase revenue.

“We’re on a fixed-income, and if there’s anywhere we can find money, it would benefit mine and other families,” said Tracy Ruffin of Hogart Street.

Ruffin’s husband, Ronald, was an International Paper employee in Franklin for 23 years before being let go last May. He told the council that times have been tough for former mill employees and many are still trying “to put their lives back together.”

The average residential customer will pay $8 more a month, or $112, from June through September, and nearly $7.50 more a month the rest of the year. Small businesses will pay an average of $16.54 more a month or $112. Larger businesses will pay an average of $194 more a month, or $1,460. Churches and synagogues will not be affected.

Without the increase, the city would face a $748,205 shortfall, but McLemore argued that the city’s Power and Light Department does turn a profit. He said the $1.4 million transferred from the power and light to the city’s general fund for administrative and other services causes the department to lose money and that the transfer is not needed.

McLemore blamed the need for an increase on excess spending within the city.

“I am opposed to an electric rate increase of any degree,” he said. “We continuously go back to the citizens wanting more and more and more. We do not look at other ways to raise revenue.”

Power and Light Director Mark Bly confirmed that without the transfer his department would be in the black and that the transfer makes up 49 percent of the department’s operating budget of $3.6 million. Bly added that in addition to administrative costs, the transfer covers taxes that the department would incur if it were independent of the city.

The department also budgets around $10 million for the purchase of electricity.

The city buys its electricity from Dominion Virginia Power as a member of the Virginia Municipal Electric Association. The contract that went into effect on Jan. 1 included increased costs, which the city has been absorbing.

The increased rate charged by Dominion as part of a new contract with the association has exhausted the department’s reserve fund below a city-mandated 15 percent of expenditures. The rate increase would put $150,000 back in the reserve.

Councilman Barry Cheatham argued that having a solid reserve would help the city make much-needed updates to infrastructure.

“Even with the increase our residential rates will be 96 percent of Dominion’s rates for 1,000 kilowatt hours,” Cheatham said. “We are still one of the lowest in the area.”

Councilman Benny Burgess also made a motion to direct city staff to look at the collection rates on electric bills. That motion was approved unanimously.