Franklin city manager gives report on investigation

Published 9:34 am Wednesday, March 27, 2013


FRANKLIN—Franklin’s City Manager Randy Martin updated those in attendance at Monday’s City Council meeting about the utilities billing audit thus far — noting it is far from complete.

“It is my intention to do further evaluation and outreach to customers, with reporting of additional findings going forward,” Martin said. “I and the Staff stand ready to continue to address customer concerns and report outcomes.”

“When we left the last meeting, we said this investigative process would not stop and it is not going to stop,” said Franklin Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn.

Johnson-Ashburn continues to encourage concerned citizens to bring their concerns to City Hall.

“It is extremely important for each citizen to bring their individual concerns to city staff directly,” she said. “There is a process to collect the data needed — we need individual input to aid in our research. Individual situations do matter.”

She continued, “We have asked for a third-party verification on the equipment. We want someone that is neutral to come in and look at our equipment.”

Martin stated the city has had 33 meter complaints and each one was investigated. There were no discrepancies found during the rereads of any of the 33 meters. He learned some of those residents unknowingly had their emergency heat system on, which uses a significant amount of energy.

“This taxes the system and results in elevated electricity usage,” Martin said. “Electric strip heat is very inefficient and only designed for true emergency or temporary use. An analysis done by staff, utilizing 2013 data, is eye popping for this type of heat generation. Four very typical 1,500 watt electric baseboard units used to heat a four room residence and set at the higher setting on the thermostat for a total of six hours in a 24-hour period, would by themselves utilize approximately 6,480 kilowatts of energy and cost $695.66 in a month.”

Martin continued, “Some customers have admitted they sometimes supplement their heat utilizing open ovens and small portable space heaters. This is a very expensive way to stay warm.”

Upgrading the primary heating source, completing weatherization measures and proper maintenance required prior to seasonal temperature changes, can help to reduce bills.

Martin also compared seasonal graphs to overall usage, noting the cold winter this year corresponds with higher utility bills.

“A pattern clearly shows a direct correlation to the seasonal fluctuations in outside temperature readings over the last three winter seasons,” Martin said. “This pattern was validated by comparing the available temperature readings for the corresponding three winter seasons beginning in fall, 2010 to present.”

Temperature analysis documents that the 2012-13 winter is the most severe of the three previous years. The 2011-12 winter, by contrast, is among the warmest on record and milder than the other two years analyzed.

“The billing data analyzed verifies that the utility bills generally reflect the same pattern of fluctuations as the weather, with very few exceptions,” Martin said.

He also said complainants typically have higher meter recordings than the average resident, and some are as much as 75 percent higher. He said lower income housing in the city is not typically energy efficient.

“I have collected additional valuable data, when available, on their homes from other sources for a number of the customer accounts analyzed,” Martin said. “This includes information on year constructed, square footage and most importantly the type of heating source utilized. This information has significant impact on electric usage because the age of the home, its condition (particularly the amount of insulation and weatherization), the size and the heating source in great measure determine the energy efficiency of the residence.”

Martin noted the city is committed to helping income-qualifying homeowners and renters receive assistance during extreme weather conditions.

“With the help of the Department of Social Services and other philanthropic organizations, approximately 1,448 city customers requested financial assistance to help pay city electric bills for heating and cooling assistance and other emergency assistance this past year,” he said.

Social Services provided a total $330,010.79 in customer utility assistance for 2012. In total Franklin received assistance for 1,645 customers this year totaling $344,170.88 in financial assistance from all services including Social Services, Salvation Army, Cooperative Ministries and local Churches.

“The City is also committed to pursuing available financial assistance programs to help complete improvements to substandard housing and weatherization programs to improve energy efficiency and as necessary enforce minimum housing codes to protect tenant interests and well-being,” Martin stated.

To also assist in this effort to help residents, the Franklin Department of Power & Light has a guide to saving energy titled “Energy Matters in Your Home”.

“I encourage customers to contact the office for this information and to inquire or schedule a home energy analysis,” Martin said. “I implore each of our customers to become as informed as possible and manage your energy usage wisely. Neither the customer nor the City gains from wasted energy.”