On an evening when city residents were invited to comment on the proposed $96.9 million 2015-16 Statesville city budget, it was the cost of electricity that dominated the conversations.
Nearly a dozen ratepayers asked the City Council to take a closer look at the city’s rates, especially late fees and reconnection charges. Meanwhile, no one spoke out against or in favor of the budget, which contains both a tax increase and a hike in water and sewer rates.
“These electric rates are sky high and make no sense at all,” said Karen Keaton. “They are especially difficult for those living on fixed incomes.”
City newcomer Richard Morgan concurred. “Your rates are higher than other areas, especially the late fees. I urge you to do something about it.”
ElectriCities provides wholesale power to Statesville’s Electric Department via the North Carolina Municipal Power Agency. About 80 percent of the electric customers in Statesville are served by the city, while the other 20 percent are served by either Duke Power or Energy United.
Mayor Costi Kutteh noted city’s electric rates were not scheduled to go up under the proposed budget, but he also sympathized with the residents’ comments.
“We’re not turning a deaf ear on your concerns. It is my understanding that the power agency is in the process of refinancing some of their debt, and if that is achieved successfully, I believe we will be in a position to cut our electric rates prior to year’s end,” he said.
In the city’s electric service area, bills are considered past due and delinquent 21 days after the billing date and are subject to a late fee of $5 or 5 percent of the unpaid amount, whichever is greater. In addition, if any bills are not paid within 31 days of the billing date, the city has the right to suspend service. The reconnection fee is $53.50.
Both Energy United and Duke have lower late fees, though the billing periods vary. Energy United’s 2,100 customers in Statesville are subject to a 1.5 percent late fee, and their reconnection fee is $50. Late fees are accessed when payment is received after the due date, usually 30 days from the billing date.
For Duke’s 1,000 Statesville customers, bills are past due after 25 days, and become subject to a 1 percent late payment charge on the unpaid amount. The utility’s reconnection fee is $25.
“Perhaps we have not looked carefully enough at some of these fees in the past,” Kutteh said. “I can assure you that we are doing that now.”
Dave Vieser is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Dave? Email him at email@example.com.