City power bills fuel discussion

Published 12:10 pm Friday, February 23, 2018

Following its Feb. 12 meeting, Franklin City Council called a session on Tuesday to further discuss — but could not yet resolve — the issue of complaints by residents about high electric bills after the spell of bitter cold in January.

At that first meeting, many customers said they had bills ranging in the upper hundreds of dollars — one even reportedly over $1,000. A chief concern was that their power would be cut off if they weren’t able to pay in full by the due date.

City Manager R. Randy Martin said then the city’s use of electricity and the bills have been the highest Franklin has ever experienced since Franklin Power and Light has been providing the service. For example, on average the bills sent for the period of Dec. 22-Jan. 21 were 45 percent higher than those mailed in January for use from November to December of last year.

Councilman Greg McLemore had suggested that residents be allowed to pay their average monthly bill plus an extra 15 percent to account for usage during the snow, with the remainder of their bill for this past pay period forgiven using the $500,000 true-up credit FP&L received from Dominion in October.

That was countered as a “short-term fix” by Vice Mayor Barry Cheatham, who added that the city should find a budget plan to make a long-term solution.

Council did agree then not to have anybody’s power cut until such a solution could be devised.

On Tuesday, McLemore again brought up the idea of using monetary reserves to help city power customers.

Mayor Frank Rabil said he’s noticed that Dominion Power hasn’t offered anything to its customers other than an extended payment plan.

“It would be financially irresponsible to dip into our reserves,” he said.

Citing police and the fire departments as examples, Councilman Barry Cheatham later said, “We may have to use the reserves for other serious issues. We need to be really careful about using them.”

In a report made on Feb. 16, Martin stated that interim finance director Tracy Gregory provided an analysis that forecasts the status of cash reserves through the month’s end. Based on that projection, wrote Martin, “the city reserves will not be sufficient to meeting policy minimums due in part to the large amount of unpaid bills current and projected to increase significantly with customers being able to defer payment over the next four months for the current billing period as approved at the last meeting.”

Councilman Bobby Cutchins asked if the city could consider creating a separate emergency fund for just such an occasion.

When McLemore mentioned about mechanical issues with the meters, Rabil said, “If that were the case, we would have had people up in arms in July or October.”

Rabil reminded the audience that formal comment was not being taken that night — though there was plenty of heckling.

The mayor added he wasn’t going to make “idle promises.” Any decision made later would be “sound and fiscally responsible.”