Members of Clinton's rate committee want more information

“The bottom line is lowering costs. We’ve got to do something.” Nancy Katzberg, utility rate advisory committee member

The city’s utility rate advisory committee held its second meeting Monday night and the citizen-members of the 18-member group agree they need more information.
The group was formed by Clinton City Council following last summer’s uproar over high electric bills when citizens filled council chambers to complain.
Monday’s meeting was only the second time the group has convened. Planning Commission Chairman Jeff DeWitt was elected chairman of the advisory committee.
In response to questions, City Manager Frank Stovall said he has received a rate study city council agreed to pay for. The study looks at all the costs associated with operating the city and how much each department and unit in the city should pay toward those costs.
He said the study should indicate which city utility is subsidizing the other services (electricity pays by far the most of the three utilities) and if the committee – and ultimately city council – wants to reduce services in order to reduce rates.
He said there is some comparison in the study of Clinton’s rates compared to other cities, but it’s harder to compare electric rates than it is water and sewer rates.
Stovall said he disputes some of the cost figures in the study, and he wants city staff to identify those areas and send the study back to the firm to review and then send back to the city.
He said he hopes to have the study ready to distribute to city council and the rate advisory committee by the end of January, before budget discussions begin for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
The plan for the advisory committee is to make rate recommendations to city council to be included in the next city budget. It was decided at Monday’s meeting that city staff and PMPA representatives will not vote on those recommendations.
PMPA is the city’s wholesale electric supplier. PMPA General Manager Coleman Smoak and CFO Steven Ruark are serving on the advisory committee.
Smoak made a 1-hour presentation to the group, detailing PMPA’s history and Clinton legal obligations as one of 10 member cities.
Afterwards, citizen member Nancy Katzberg said information given by Smoak shows the city’s power cost is 9.85 cents per kilowatt hour. She said her electric bill has averaged $.16 per KWH and includes a $20 per month fee that fellow committee member Mike Gower called “irksome.”
Stovall said every utility charges a base charge. “Where that (charge) should be is a discussion we can have,” he said.
Gower said he wants to review PMPA’s financial statements at the committee’s next meeting (Monday, Dec. 19 at 6 p.m.). He said he specifically wants to know how compensation and bonuses are determined for PMPA’s 18 employees.
During his presentation, Smoak said 2% of PMPA’s budget goes to operate the agency’s Greer office.
“That’s not causing our rates to be what they are,” DeWitt said. “Two percent doesn’t impact our rates.”
Katzberg said the city and PMPA have to find a way to lower costs, asking if PMPA has considered adding more member cities to spread the costs.
“The bottom line is lowering costs,” she said. “We’ve got to do something.”
Citizen member Dr. Bud Marchant, who participated in the meeting via phone from North Carolina, where he is president of a community college, said he wants the committee to retain legal counsel to see how the city can get out of its contract with PMPA.
“I want to make sure that’s on the table,” Marchant said.
The committee is comprised of city staff, city council representatives, PMPA representatives, the city’s largest electric customers (Presbyterian College, Asten-Johnson and School District 56) and five citizens.

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