City taking right steps concerning utilities

Published 12:04 pm Saturday, April 13, 2013

Over the last few weeks, our staff has attempted to provide as much information as possible regarding the concern expressed by some Franklin residents about their electric bills and the steps taken by city leaders to address the issue. We have interviewed, at great length, city leaders and Power and Light employees as well as members of the citizens group who have brought their concern before city council. We have held off giving our own opinion until we had a chance to present the unbiased findings of our research to our readers, not only with the hope that they would come to their own conclusion, but also so that we had time to draw our own.

Generally speaking, this is what we have determined so far:

• Complaints have not been widespread. Out of roughly 5,500 customers, the city manager and FP&L have heard from only 100 or so residents who have filed a complaint, asked to have their meters inspected or requested an energy audit. This is less than 2 percent of their customers, which is actually a pretty good record.

• The rates charged by FP&L are not only the same for customers in all parts of the agency’s service area, but are very competitive when compared to other regional or municipal providers.

• FP&L’s system for reading meters is incredibly consistent and, because of the technology used, almost foolproof. That’s not to say that an isolated problem is impossible, but the margin for error is incredibly small.

• There is a strong case to be made for the city keeping FP&L intact. The $1.4 million cash transfer made to the city’s general fund each year is significant in its impact on holding down real estate taxes (It is estimated that that rate would go up 24 cents were the transfer discontinued.) and fairly collects revenue from renters and homeowners alike who benefit from city services. Until an in-depth study is presented that makes a more compelling case for selling off the agency, it appears to be a benefit for the city and its taxpayers.

• Regardless of comments made to the contrary by a vocal few, the city’s response to citizen’s concerns has, to date, been fairly rapid and thorough. It seems a little disingenuous for leaders of a citizens group to pledge to work with city leaders on a Monday and then hold an organized protest three days later.

The leaders of Concerned Citizens Against High Utility Bills have asked for a more thorough inspection and investigation of the city’s electric infrastructure, meters and meter reading equipment by a disinterested third party and, given their concerns, the city should strongly consider doing so. We would be interested in the findings of such a study, and hope that they would serve to put citizens’ minds at ease and put the whole issue to rest.