PIQUA — Residents came forward during the Piqua City Commission meeting on Tuesday evening to question local utility bills and seek lower rates.
“Most citizens think something isn’t right with the system,” Jey Roman of Piqua said. Roman said that he began the Facebook group Citizens for Fair Piqua Utilities Pricing and quickly amassed nearly 1,200 followers. He said that they also have a petition with over 800 signatures on Change.org seeking changes to utility rates, fees, and billing processes. According to that petition, they are asking the city to do the following:
• Abolish the fee for making a payment the same day as shutoff date
• Lower the price charged per kilowatt hour (kWh) closer to standard companies
• Abolish estimated bills
• Provide at least three weeks notice of bill statements before late fees occur
• Provide payment plan options
• Replace the “smart readers,” or the new automated meters, which they allege have raised the rates of kWh for most residents
In addition to those concerns, Roman also presented the commission and city employees with a list of requests and issues related to water rates and disconnected services during cold months.
Roman said that he and his girlfriend have tried to address their electric usage in order to reduce their bills, but they have only seen a $6 decrease so far. He went on to say that he has heard a number of stories of local residents struggling to make their utility payments, including a local educator and his family who are living in a hotel because they cannot afford their utility bills and another family that had to pawn wedding rings in order to make their utility payments.
“I want a resolution,” Roman said. “I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to villainize anybody.”
Tanya Blair, a local real estate agent and property owner, talked about receiving $200 utility bills for a vacant home she is trying to sell on Linden Avenue — bills that are higher than the ones she pays for the home that her family and she currently live in that receives its electricity from Pioneer Electric. Blair said that the only thing using electricity in the vacant home is a humidifier and occasional light usage.
“We just updated all of the electric,” Blair said. She added that when a potential buyer requests to see past utility bills, she has to provide them, which is causing an issue in selling the property. She also questioned the city’s fee to have the new meter there checked.
Leslie Lewis of Piqua questioned the city’s disconnect policy, saying she saw a man get his service disconnected for being 50 cents short on his bill. She said a local small business also got its electricity disconnected because of a 10-cent discrepancy on a payment check.
Other local residents came forward, expressing concerns about irregularities that they received in their utility bills.
In other business, Mayor Kazy Hinds said that commissioner Dave Short, who was absent from Tuesday night’s meeting, submitted his resignation from the commission, effective June 1. Hinds said that it was due to a conflict with a new job Short was taking. The commission has 60 days to appoint a new member to the commission. If it does not appoint a new member within 60 days, there will be a special election.
“We regretfully accept his resignation,” Hinds said. The commission also thanked Short for his service.
Following that, Larry Hamilton of Piqua encouraged local residents and the commission to observe the 400th year anniversary of when African slavery was first brought to the American colonies at Jamestown, Va. in 1619. Hamilton sought additional support for the cause and called on other members of the community to be leaders in this observance, holding year-round activities.
Hinds said that a committee had formed in regard to this observance earlier in the year and is planning on having more events in the fall.
Also during their meeting, resident Bill Jaqua came forward to bring up concerns he spoke about at a previous meeting in regard to drug-related crime. Jaqua first brought up researching incidents of shots being fired in Piqua, Troy, and Oakwood, saying that Piqua has a problem in regard to drug-related crime and that “it’s all meth, a bunch of meth heads running the streets” in an area near downtown Piqua.
Jaqua also accused Chief of Police Bruce Jamison of not complying with a records request in regard to a “drug policy” or a ”drug enforcement policy.”
When questioned by Hinds, Jamison said that the Piqua Police Department does not have anything called a drug enforcement policy and that it was his understanding that Jaqua was going to check with other cities and provide Jamison an example of what type of policy for which Jaqua was seeking.
“I didn’t refuse to give him anything. We don’t have anything called a drug enforcement policy, and much of what we do is related to drug enforcement,” Jamison said. Jamison added that he would not provide any specific details on ongoing drug investigations.
Jamison also said that the city’s drug offenses are going down and commended the community’s engagement with the police department. Hinds also talked about the city’s and county-wide efforts to address drug-related issues.
During Hinds’ response, Jaqua interrupted Hinds and asked if he could respond, later requesting a “drug enforcement policy” again.
The commission ended their meeting by going into executive session to discuss pending or imminent litigation.
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