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By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer
After discussing the matter over the last two months, during its regular monthly meeting Monday evening the Rockford Utilities Board approved a gas rate increase for its customers.
The board had previously mentioned that it would need to look at increasing rates since the rate it was going to pay for gas was going to increase. During Monday’s meeting Board Chair Ronnie Brown said that they lost about $1,100 in the past month on gas.
Board Member J.T. McDonald said that he understands they have to raise the rates because they are paying more, but said that he thinks if the rate ever comes back down then they should decrease rates.
Other board members voiced that they had no problem with that and that they could decrease rates in the future if what they pay decreases. Board Member Ronnie Joiner stated that they do not “make money on gas anyway.”
Board members reviewed information and rates for other areas to see how they compared. The board also discussed how much they should increase the rates by in order to help avoid losing money again.
McDonald asked how much the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia is charging Rockford for gas, as well as how they measure it. Board Member Burt Coffman said that to make an educated gas on the rate increase they at least need a starting point.
Coffman added that they could not “pull a number out of the air” for the rate increase, and McDonald voiced his agreement.
Joiner said that he did not want to raise the rates anymore than they have to, but that they needed to know how much the board is paying and how much it charges customers.
During discussion it was stated that Rockford currently charges its customers $1.75 per 100 cubic feet.
After spending a good amount of time reviewing and crunching numbers, as well as doing mathematical conversions where needed, it was determined that for October to November, Rockford paid Municipal Gas 84 cents per 100 cubic feet for gas, in addition to other added fees. However, that rate fluctuates monthly.
The board did briefly discuss the possibility of having fluctuating rates, but ultimately decided that would not be good for the customers since it meant their rates would change every month.
In reviewing numbers, it was also noted that the last time Rockford adjusted its gas rates was in 2015, meaning that the rate has not changed in seven years.
During discussion it was stated that Rockford currently has 112 gas customers, with that including 85 residential and 27 commercial.
Currently, the board charges those customers a base rate of $16 and then the $1.75 per 100 cubic feet.
After much discussion, Chair Brown suggested the board consider increasing the base rate to $20 for residential gas customers and $22 for commercial, as well as raising the rate from $1.75 to $2 per 100 cubic feet.
Brown added that if the rates go down then the board can come back and decrease those rates in order to adjust it fairly.
Joiner made a motion to approve the suggested rate increase, and Board Member Raymond Abrams seconded the motion. With all members present, the board unanimously approved the gas rate increase, which will go into effect in January.
In other business, the board discussed a one-time pay raise for its employees, something formerly known as a Christmas bonus. Brown and McDonald mentioned that the board had given employees $200 last year for the one-time raise.
“I’ve got a little something to say about that,” Abrams said. “Have any of y’all been down there to see what they’ve done down there? They’ve done a tremendous job. They saved us thousands and thousands of dollars. I think we ought to give them a little more than $200 since they helped us out so much. Every spare minute they had they were down there doing something; I do know that.”
After the meeting, it was explained that what Abrams was referring to was Utilities Superintendent Wade Brown and employee Jason Thornton framing walls at the board’s new building near Dollar General.
Brown asked how much Abrams was thinking, and he said $400, “$200 extra a piece.”
McDonald, who was sitting in the audience, said no, then added, “I disagree with that; I’m against that.”
Abrams asked, “Have you been down there to see it, J.T.?”
“I know they do good work everywhere they go,” McDonald said adamantly. “We owe so much, so much, on everything. We’re raising rates. I’m against it. Give them $200 like they got last year; they’d be satisfied.”
Addressing Abrams, McDonald added, “Let me ask you a question. Aren’t you and Wade cousins? Just give me a yes or no.”
Joiner spoke up stating, “I’m not his cousin,” to which McDonald responded that he did not ask Joiner.
“Well I’m going to suggest we give them $400, and I’m not his cousin,” Joiner said.
At that point McDonald got up from his seat in the audience and walked out, stating, “Give them what you want to give them; you’re going to do it anyway.”
“Yes, sir, I would,” Abrams stated. “I think those guys are really worth it. They saved us a pile of money.”
Wade Brown spoke up stating, “That has nothing to do with who is related to who. I had no idea about this.”
Abrams said, “I did this on my own.”
Speaking about the board’s new building and work done there, Joiner stated, “We’ve looked at that thing. We’ve been keeping up with what’s going on. I stick my head in the door down there all the time. If I had done that job down there it’d cost you $30,000.”
Abrams said that they could go back to $200 next year, adding, “I think this particular year though… I think it would be good.”
After discussion, Abrams made a motion to approve a $400 one-time pay raise for employees. Joiner seconded the motion, and it was unanimously approved by the four board members still in attendance.
The one-time pay raise of $400 will be given to all five of the Utilities Board employees.
In other business related to the board’s building, Chair Brown reviewed quotes provided by Marty Adams to do electrical wiring and install heating and air.
After reviewing the quotes and brief discussion, the board unanimously approved the quote of $19,800 for the electrical wiring and $16,500 for the heating and air project and allowing Adams to go forward with those projects.
Also during the meeting the board and its attorney, Nancy Kirby, reviewed a draft settlement with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management with procedures and deadlines to get the sewer plant into compliance.
The board mentioned Kirby coordinating with engineer Ed Morris regarding any necessary paperwork and information with which he may be able to help. The board did not take a vote on the matter, but voiced that if Morris is OK with the agreement then so is the board.
Kirby mentioned that this was just the first draft of the settlement agreement and that nothing was set in stone yet. However, she said that once the board enters into the agreement it locks down the deadline dates.
After discussion Kirby said that she would report back to the board after talking to Morris and reviewing the agreement, adding that she would bring the matter back to the board next month.
In other business, Utilities Clerk Deanna Lesley asked if the board needed to change the date for its January meeting because of the third Monday being a holiday.
After brief discussion, the board unanimously approved moving its January meeting date to the fourth Monday, January 23, at 6 p.m.
The next regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Rockford Utilities Board will be held at 6 p.m. December 19.