Shedding light on big bills

Residents and city utility officials congregated Tuesday at Bethel A.M.E. Church to discuss the city’s utility rates and billing practices.

Many residents, particularly on the city’s Southside, said they were paying higher rates and additional fees that were not being charged in other parts of town.

“There is one rate per kilowatt hour,” said Rick Fernandez, assistant city manager for utility services.

City utility officials attributed the difference in utility prices to the older housing stock that exists in the south side, which is generally not as energy efficient as newer homes. Also, according to Lee Jones, energy auditor, energy consumption is up during cooler months.

“January bill consumption is 30 percent more than December,” said Jones.

Fernandez also points out that cost for energy and distribution has gone up 24 percent since last year and half of the bill is directly due to the cost of fuel.

However, many residents were not satisfied with those answers. Marion Rodgers, a junior political science student, said when he lived in an apartment on the Southside, his utility bill was about $176 a month. Now that he lives on the north side, it is about $100 a month.

Like other students at the meeting, Rodgers also wondered why his bill was so high during the summer even though he was away and had flipped the circuit breaker.

“They gave us the runaround,” Rodgers said.

During the meeting, utility officials offered suggestion on everything from how to cut back on energy consumption, to how to read meters. However, many residents were upset that they never received answers to their specific questions.

Cynthia Barber, a retired small business owner, said that she has been assessed $61 in work order fees eight times last year. The city imposes those fees if services are turned off for nonpayment, but Barber said that services were never turned off and since June she has not received an explanation of why the charges were made.

“The problem I have is they are not responding to me,” Barber said.

The meeting concluded with utility officials taking down the concerns of the residents and agreeing to look into rates and other concerns many residents said they have brought to the city’s attention before.

Contact Garrett Horne at