03/02/04 — Pikeville residents protest proposed rate hikes

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Pikeville residents protest proposed rate hikes

By Matt Shaw
Published in News on March 2, 2004 2:00 PM

PIKEVILLE -- The town commissioners unplugged plans to raise electrical rates for out-of-town customers after hearing Monday from some angry people.

But the town board is likely to vote next month for an increase and, as of now, town residents would not be affected, Mayor Tony Medlin said.

The town has absorbed two price hikes totaling nearly 5 percent from its power supplier, ElectriCities, over the past year, Medlin said. When the town doesn't pass along those increases, it loses revenue that must be replaced by tax dollars.

It isn't fair for in-town customers to bear the cost of these increases, he said.

Pikeville already charges higher rates to its out-of-town water and sewer customers. If commissioners extend the two-tier rate structure to electricity, most out-of-town customers would likely see their bills go up less than $10 a month, officials said.

But some out-of-town residents won't be happy with any increase.

Terri Reid of Booker Street said that few of her neighbors are totally dependent on electricity. Many people heat with wood, gas or oil. But most people's monthly electric bills are still high.

"Hardly anyone's bill is less than $200," she said. "We're poor people, working people, people on a fixed income, retired people, and people trying to do the best they can. We cannot afford another increase, whether it's five dollars a month or more."

"Don't burden us any more," said Bill Wiggs of Big Daddy's Road. "We don't mind sharing the burden, but don't burden us more."

The town sells electricity at a cost of around 20 to 25 percent higher than Progress Energy does, Wiggs said, adding that any increases will hurt the town's ability to attract new homes and businesses.

But the bills hit town residents hard, as well.

Medlin's electric bill tends to run $250 a month, despite his using gas heat for his home, he said. "I don't like the rates either."

Commissioner Edith McClenny added that she is living on a fixed income and has an equally tough time keeping a budget. Social Security increases do a poor job of keeping up with the cost of living, she said.

The town's electric utility is profitable, Commissioner Lyman Galloway said. "It's the only thing that's making us any money."

Other area towns, including Fremont, already charge out-of-town customers more for power, he added.

Those profits will be needed for the eventual replacement of antiquated lines and equipment, officials said. The current system loses about 20 percent of its power before it ever gets to customers' meters; that's power the town buys but for which it doesn't get a dime, Medlin said.

About 20 people attended the public hearing, which lasted an hour. Afterward, the commissioners voted 4-1 to allow Medlin to appoint a committee, including some residents from the out-of-town areas, to discuss the electrical rates.

That committee is intended to give citizens more information, Medlin said. It will not be making a recommendation to the town commissioners.

Galloway was the only commissioner to vote against the committee. He was ready to vote Monday for the increase, he said.