Thursday, September 15, 2011
Citizens complain about flooding, high utility bills
By SUE WATSON
Several citizens spoke before the Holly Springs Board of Aldermen at the September 6 meeting about long-standing concerns they have with the city.
Edythe Taylor and Leontyne Thompson aired their concerns about water backing up into or flooding their yards after heavy storms.
Thompson, a resident of West Valley Avenue, said water backs up in her yard when it rains.
“You have not answered the question about the water problem in the city,” she said. “We need to solve this problem of water when it rains and all backs up in my yard.”
Mayor Andre’ DeBerry answered that the city has 15 drainage problems rolled into one $600,000 project. He said the plan has assessed her water problem and Taylor’s. The project must go before the 2012 legislative session as a local and private bill, he said.
Taylor said she was told her problem was not termite damage to her home but water rot in her house boards. She said there are no gutters in the street to carry the water away.
“If you all would just consider the problem I’m having,” she said. “We don’t have (curb) gutters to catch the water; my yard is the gutter. I’ve been presenting this to the board for 10 years. It’s the city’s water; it’s not mine and I’m tired of it.”
Next up was Geraldine Sickler, who said she cannot afford to pay her electricity bill, with one bill over $800 dollars. She said half her last payment of $300 was a payment on an overdue bill.
“My problem is I cannot afford my bill,” she said.
Her electricity had been turned off for three or four days in the last week of August because of delinquent bills, she said.
She has sought assistance and advice in how to lower her bill, she said, adding that she lives on a limited income and has quite a few medical problems.
Sickler said she also came before the board about her bill because she knows there are others out there in a similar or worse situation.
“What will people do?” she asked. “This is a good place. Will we be like Memphis where people are found dead in their homes (from heat)?”
Utility department manager Don Hollingsworth said power is cut off only when a utility bill becomes 60 to 90 days past due because “we are so far behind in working cutoff orders.”
The monthly bill is due 15 days after it comes due, he said, but in actual practice, a customer usually won’t be turned off for lack of payment until maybe 30 days.
“We’re talking about bills – $2,000 – from last year (in Sickler’s case),” he said. “You divide that by 12 months and pay $155 a month plus your current bill. We’re not running a social service.”
Hollingsworth said in actual practice HSUD is disconnecting service at 60 to 90 days past due.
DeBerry said he thinks Sickler makes a valid point, that there is only so much a person can receive from social services. He has in mind working with local churches to develop a fund so the city does not get into cut-offs and reconnects.
“There are some things a government can do and some things a religious community is duty-bound to do,” he said. “If we proclaim to be followers of Christ, we need to step up. She’s not asking for free electricity.”
Next up was Vanessa James, who has a duplex on Martin Luther King Drive – one side of which is operated as a beauty salon. James’ electricity bill had gone from about $350 a month for both sides of the duplex to $800 to $900 before the utility department finally investigated where her power was going and found a neighbor was stealing electricity. Her neighbor was arrested and charged with theft of utilities, then was charged again afterward for the theft of electricity of a church next door, she said. She said even though someone was arrested and charged with theft of utilities, she still has to pay the bill.
She thinks the utility department should be investigated.
“We are not looking for a handout,” she said. “Nothing has changed in our house (no extra use of power).”
James asked what process should she use to try to file an official complaint with the city. She asked the mayor to advertise in the paper that complaints of thefts of utilities are taking place in the city.
DeBerry said anyone in the community has the right to file a complaint, but he will not advertise.
“I’m afraid my office will be bombarded (with complaints),” he said.
“It needs to be bombarded,” James said.
After the meeting, Hollingsworth clarified that the theft of utilities near James’ duplex was actually a theft through a hookup to the outdoor light fixture near the duplex. Customers pay a flat rate for night lights and that theft of power would not have been metered to her duplex.
He said the electricity that was stolen did not pass through James’ meter. The theft of electricity from the church, however, did pass through the church’s meter. Hollingsworth said a person who is a victim of electricity theft will definitely not have to pay for the stolen power.
James said in an interview after the meeting that she thought the theft could have been from her house service because she thought she saw some dirt disturbed there. She also requested and received an energy audit from TVA and was given some suggestions of how to conserve electricity, she said.
The Holly Springs Board of Aldermen approved a write-off of $219,500 in uncollectible electricity bills in July this year.
Tim Weston, general manager of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Mississippi District, said there are three ways that TVA can look at delinquent power bills.
“TVA is the regulator so we require Holly Springs Utility Department to follow the rules and regulations that TVA approves,” Weston said.
All power distributors and cooperatives must implement rules and regulations, he said.
“One principal thing we do as a regulator is we ask (in some cases, tell) distributors they have to treat everyone the same. They have to pay their bills,” Weston said. “They need to require people to pay their electric bill and that would include a disconnect (of service on delinquent bills).”
Weston said TVA realizes and is sensitive to the fact that the world is in tough economic times.
“But at the end of the day, the utility has to follow the rules and regulations,” he said.”
It is unfair to paying customers to pay their own bills and then be required through higher rates imposed due to non-paying customers, to pay uncollected bills, he said.
“From a regulatory standpoint, we approve and require Holly Springs to follow policies and procedures,” he said.
Weston said TVA requires a distributor to pay for all power that is used.
“TVA does not forgive a write-off, so the distributor has to pay for it,” he said. “It is TVA’s responsibility to work with mayors and boards to make sure they are following the rules.”
In other business, the board of aldermen:
• discussed the board’s order to allow the Potts Camp home football games to be played on the field at Sam Coopwood Park. Mayor DeBerry said he informed the principal at Potts Camp High School that there would be no charge for the use of the field and that the scoreboard clock was not working properly.
“She chose to move the (September 1) game to H.W. Byers,” the mayor said.
Alderman Harvey Payne read portions of a letter from the Potts Camp principal, whom he said appeared to be unhappy. She stated someone in the recreation department told a school representative that the city requested part of the money from ticket sales.
The mayor replied that the allegations that someone had said the city would have to have a gate fee was hearsay.
• received a report from the information technology department. Director of IT, Ken Robinson said there are two courses open for the fall – a medical coding course and carpentry. But the carpentry course was deleted in order not to duplicate the carpentry program at Holly Springs High School, he said.
• passed a motion for a resolution for $2,181,450 in revenue development bonds for the Highway 4 water project.
• passed a motion for a hearing on the cleanup of a dilapidated home.
• approved a request from Shepherd Technical College on Austin Peay Highway in Memphis, Tenn., to play Southeast Texas Tech on the football field at Sam Coopwood Park on October 1 at 2 p.m.
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