03/20/13 — Fremont board hears utility cost complaints

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Fremont board hears utility cost complaints

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 20, 2013 2:05 PM

FREMONT -- Fremont residents turned out Tuesday night to complain to the town board about their utility costs.

Charles Hamilton was the first to speak. He said the total cost of utilities for his one-story home was about $500 this past month. Being on disability, he has trouble making ends meet even without the high electric bill, he told council members.

Hazel Willis followed Hamilton with her own concerns. She said her last electric bill was the highest she has ever seen. And these two weren't alone in their concern.

A small crowd of town residents were on hand to tell their individual stories. All were concerned about the high cost of utilities, especially electricity.

Mayor Darron Flowers tried to ease their concerns, but he had to admit that even though the town holds the contract with ElectriCities to provide electric services, the town board isn't in total control of billing.

"The number one issue we have is the utility costs," said Mayor Darron Flowers.

ElectriCities current wholesale rate for electricity, set at nine cents per kilowatt hour, is about 25 percent higher than other suppliers because of standing debt on the cooperative's purchase of the Harris Nuclear Power Plant in Wake County, he explained. Many other factors, however, including the town's retail rate and an uncharacteristically cold February, could have raised residents' bills, said Ken Raber, the senior vice president of member services at ElectriCities.

After public comments were over, Flowers said that he planned on putting together a utilities committee to see what the town can do to make a difference for resident's utility bills. He tried to end the session on a positive note.

"It's encouraging to see people like you coming out into your community taking part in the governing of the town," Flowers said. "I don't know if you'll see any positive results, but it makes us know that you care. And we need to do what you care about."

In regard to providing better water services, the town is taking a look at replacing some 100-year old water lines in the northeast side of town which can solve some water problems for residents there who have been complaining of rust in their water.

Replacing the water lines in a section of town between Dickinson and North streets east of the railroad would require major funding, which the town hopes to receive by applying for a Community Development Block Grant of $750,000. The town is required to match five percent, or $39,000, for a total of a $789,000 project. The grant application process will take six to nine months, and construction is expected to begin in about one year.

"A lot of our water lines are almost 100 years old, and this is the beginning, again, to try to address some of our issues we have. It does not cover the entire town. I wish it did," Flowers said.

"(The town) looks at water and sewer. We try to address them as much we can, but when you are in a small town, you go wherever you can find money and that's what were doing here," he said.