Apr 11, 2014 Joe Genco Uncategorized
Village officials took time to address recent emails, letters and calls expressing concerns about electric bills, at the April 10 Village Board meeting.
Director of Municipal Operations Bob Lotkowictz gave a presentation noting an error in some recent bills, explaining changes to future utility bills and explaining the village’s tariff system for electricity.
For November through March, commercial electric customers have been under-billed by at most $9.08 per month. Due to an issue with the new billing system software, which was installed in July 2013, those customers were billed at the wrong rate. The problem has been corrected and new bills will be sent, Lotkowictz said.
Residential utility bills, though correct, will be made more detailed in the future to reflect the village’s tiered-usage rates.
The village has three classifications for power customers: residential, commercial and industrial or demand customers. The definition of those classifications and the rate associated with each are called the tariff and is approved by the state Public Service Commission, Lotkowictz said.
Residential customers pay a minimum monthly charge of $3.25. The residential rate is set at $0.0340 per kilowatt hour (kWh), however during the winter months (November through April) they are charged $0.0504 per kWh for all usage that exceeds 750 kWh.
In the future, bills will reflect how much power a customer used and what rate they paid, including the second rate if consumption exceeds 750 kWh during the winter, Lotkowictz said.
With the new bills, residents will be able to double check the rates and math to make sure they are correct, Trustee Sue Jones said.
“It’s very important, I think, that when a resident gets a bill that they can go down and across and follow the way we get to the numbers,” Jones said.
Power bills also contain a line labeled “Power Adjustment.” Power adjustment is a charge distributed among the ratepayers, based on their usage, that covers the additional expenses the village has for purchase power when village-wide demand exceeds its hydroelectric power allocation. It also pays for transmission charges and other fees incurred when the village has to purchase power from the New York Municipal Power Authority or National Grid.
The purchase power adjustments were particularly high this winter due to unusually high rates for natural gas and natural gas-generated power, Lotkowictz said.
One way to lower the additional costs associated with purchase power, is for everyone to lower their own usage, Trustee Carol Stokes-Cawley said.
“We all need to use less power,” Trustee Jim Lanning said in agreement, adding that school districts, though limited by tight budgets, should look into initiatives to conserve energy.
“You can’t attribute one customer to raising everybody’s rates because everybody used more electricity,” he said.
Lanning asked if there was precedent elsewhere in the state for municipal electric companies adding additional classifications to its tariff.
Lotkowictz said that before proposing a change in the rates or tariff structure to the state, the village would need to pay to bring in engineers and other consultants to do a study on the pros and cons. They would need to make sure that a change to the tariff would benefit everyone and would not unfairly target one particular customer or group of customers, he said.
The village is also in the process of evaluating its infrastructure and capital needs to come up with a 20-year plan for replacements and upgrades, a process which could include a discussion about rate changes, Lotkowictz said.
–The board held a public hearing on the tentative operating budget.
Among other questions, resident Andy Ramsgard asked if the board would make questions and hold a hearing to answer questions on the electric department budget. Mayor Marty Hubbard said that the electric department is an “enterprise budget” that is not a part of the same review and approval process as the general fund. The electric fund is reviewed by the municipal board, whose meetings are open to the public, Hubbard said.
Village Clerk/Treasurer Patty Couch also added that the monthly treasurer’s reports, which are available on the village’s website, include the electric utility fund. Also, the village’s books, including the electric fund, are audited each year by Syracuse-based firm Grossman St. Amour, Couch said.
The board will vote to approve the general fund budget at its April 24 meeting, Hubbard said,
–Village Code Enforcement Officer John Cromp included a note in his report that residents who have private trash pickup cannot leave their containers at the curb. Trash collectors are required to pick up the containers from the driveway or elsewhere on the property, not the curb.
Joe Genco is the editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.