By Joe Lewis - Staff Writer
Feb. 6, 2013 — Last Friday's special meeting of the Olive Hill City Council was packed with debate about provisions of the city's new electric rate ordinance.
In fact, the matter nearly ended in a state of limbo that would have delayed utility billing.
During a public hearing before the meeting, several citizens spoke at length about how increased utility rates have affected their daily lives.
“I would ask that you try to find other ways to conserve so that those of us who live on a fixed income aren't hit so hard, so that residents don't have to carry the load,” said Frances Adkins.
“I have to wait until I get my utility bill to see if I can afford to get gas or buy groceries,” she added.
Though Council members conceded that the base rates for homeowners would increase under the new ordinance, they also touted that overall bills will decrease after applying the new Power Cost Adjustment (PCA) formula, with some Council members claiming as much as $10 a month in savings from mock bills calculated under the new proposals.
The real debate, however, centered on the meter testing policy in the new ordinance.
In the proposed language, residents with concerns about their meters would have to place a $50 deposit with the utility office before a meter would be sent away for testing.
Council member Glenn Meade was particularly concerned with this provision, arguing that residents living on fixed incomes may not have those funds available to pay up front and consequently would be saddled with a malfunctioning meter that could affect their bills each month.
Meade proposed amending the ordinance, but other Council members scoffed at the notion, calling it a “minor issue” in the ordinance.
Jerry Callihan, Enoch Hicks and Angie Johnson voted in favor of the adopting the proposal. Allen Stapleton and Tony Williams were absent.
Williams has yet to attend a Council meeting since he was appointed to replace now Mayor Kenny Fankell.
Meade cast an opposing vote, however, which appeared to kill the measure. Because it was prepared as an “emergency” ordinance, it required four of six votes for passage instead of a simple majority.
City Attorney George Hogg then advised the Council that they could reconsider the ordinance without the meter testing provision. All members agreed to the stipulation and the measure was then unanimously approved.
Mayor Fankell stated that the city could not send utility bills without passing a new electric rate ordinance. He expressed visible relief when the Council was finally able to agree.
Council member Angie Johnson expressed frustration with the way the meeting had unfolded.
“Now is not the time for us to allow one little portion over meter testing to prevent us from doing what we need to do to get these bills out,” Johnson said.
Callihan also took issue with Meade, saying, “He's wrong. Do you know how many people can just walk up there and say that they don't agree with their meter reading? That's why that charge is on there.”
Meade, however, feels differently about the issue, and spoke at length about his concerns in a post-meeting interview.
“It is difficult for the poor, trying to make ends meet, to come up with $50 to have their meter tested when the town is already profiting from the sale of electricity,” said Meade.
“My fellow Council members chastised me, and called this a small detail,” he continued. “In fact, there are no small details when you are looking to change business as usual in this town. I voted against the entire ordinance, until that clause was removed because no issue is too small when it can make a difference for those who have little.”
Joe Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 286-4201.