City considers expanding utility budget plan

Published 11:14 am Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The City of Franklin is considering making its utility budget plan available to renters and business owners. The plan, which is currently only offered to homeowners, allows a utility customer a fixed monthly electric payment based on his or her average monthly power usage, with a true-up payment or credit to reflect actual usage at the end of the year.

The council is also considering opening up the plan to include water and sewer payments, and making the plan available to utility customers outside the city limits.

According to City Attorney H. Taylor Williams IV, some of the city’s billing staff members have cautioned against opening the plan to all renters, given that many are transient. However, requirements for getting on the plan, which would apply to renters, homeowners and business owners alike were the program to be expanded, include requiring a customer to have paid his or her utility bill current for the past 12 months, and that he or she cannot have had any cut-offs nor have been late with payments two or more times within the year. Those on the plan must also agree to allow the city to install a Cycle and Save switch on their electric water heater. This device, which the city will install for utility customers at no charge, identifies the times of day when hot water usage peaks and cuts off hot water when it is most likely to not be needed, in order to save the customer money.

Franklin Power and Light Director Mark Bly explained that imposing these requirements ensures that the city has accurate usage data for each month, including the winter months when usage may peak, to calculate an average payment. It also ensures that those on the plan have established a good track record with making payments, he said.

When asked by members of council if someone who recently moved into the city could get on the budget plan by producing records of their utility payments at their previous residence, Bly said no on the grounds that two different residences in two different locations would use electricity, water and sewer differently. He added that a previous resident’s payment history would likewise not be acceptable for a new resident of the same house to get onto the plan, on the grounds that the number of people living in the house, and thus, the utility usage, may be different.

The council also discussed adding a requirement that those on the plan sign up to receive their utility bills via email.

However, some council members, including Vice Mayor Barry Cheatham, felt that since the plan would likely be most appealing to senior citizens on fixed incomes, who might not have access to the internet, this requirement would not be reasonable.

As to whether the plan should be opened up to utility customers who live outside of the city limits, Councilman Greg McLemore said that restricting it to Franklin residents might be an incentive for people to stay in the city.

Following the discussion, the council declined to take action on the matter that evening, instead instructing the city’s staff to prepare a draft of the expanded budget plan for a vote at a future meeting.