Piqua Commission hears utilities concerns

Commission held special meeting for utilities impact report

By Sam Wildow - Miami Valley Today

PIQUA — The Piqua City Commission held a special meeting to discuss the utilities impact report that the city recently released in response to a petition submitted by the group Citizens for Fair Piqua Utilities Pricing on Tuesday evening.

The 50-page document includes explanations and responses to the petition, including an explanation of storm water fees, fees for paying the same day as a shut-off, the $50 fee for checking meters, billing cycles, the implementation of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) system, level billing, acceptance of government assistance programs, and more.

The report noted, in regard to the $50 fee for checking meters, the city refunds that fee if the meter is found to be defective. It went on to say, “It would not be practical or feasible to check every, or even a percentage of water and/or electric meters, which number almost 19,000, once a month under the current staffing levels.”

In regard to payment plans, the utilities impact report noted that the city offers payment plan options “for those customers who experience high bills due to leaks or proof of extenuating circumstances.” The city also offers a senior discount program.

The report noted instances that certain requests of the previous petition would result in increased costs, such as separate billings for water and sewer resulting in additional costs for mailings, more meter checks requiring more staff, and expanding details on the billing statement requiring reprogramming software applications and increased costs for mailings.

The report also goes over current billing rates, the history of the Piqua Power System, requirements from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to replace the city’s former Water Treatment Plant and make extensive upgrades to the Wastewater Treatment Plant, and more.

In regard to electric rates that increased in 2015, the report notes that the city’s Power Cost Adjustment (PCA) “changed from a positive number of $0.0175 for all kilowatt-hours (kWh) consumed to a negative number of -$0.0073 for all kWh used.”

The report explained that a typical use of 750 kWh resulted in an increase of $1.74 per month or 2 percent over the rates that were in place in December 2014, but “as consumption increases, your percentage rate of change actually decreases,” such as in cold weather months or extra billing days. The report noted that when a customer reaches 1,029 kWh “you are actually saving money compared to electric costs under the old rates.”

The full report is available on the city’s website at piquaoh.org.

During public comment, Bill Jaqua of Piqua called for a “fair comparative analysis” of utility rates.

Commissioner Bill Vogt went over how the city was mandated to implement storm water fees, as well as required to make improvements to their water and sewer infrastructure.

“Federal government says you have to do it, so we had to do it,” Vogt said.

Vogt also noted that the utility funds are enterprise funds, so the city cannot use funds from their general fund directly for running those functions.

“We are where we are because of regulations,” Jey Roman of Piqua said. Roman suggested the city do small things to help residents, such as offering one free meter check a year. He added that it may be getting to a point for residents that some people may not be able to afford living in Piqua.

Leslie Lewis questioned the city’s disconnect policy, saying that the city has previously shut off homes when the temperature was been 32-36 degrees. She also asked for more leniency for those who are short a certain amount for their bills.

Eva Silvers of Piqua also asked for leniency and offering extensions to billing due dates.

“The residents have lost trust in the city,” Silvers said.

Later on, Shawnda Faehl of Piqua also asked for leniency and offering a grace period for bills.

Steve Langston of Piqua asked for the city to get bills to customers more quickly. He also asked if the city plans to do anything beyond releasing the utilities impact report, adding that if the city was not going to lower rates, it should “tell everybody now.”

Mayor Kazy Hinds said that the commission was in the listening stage on Tuesday evening and would be considering ways they can help residents.

Langston questioned if the city’s utilities department was running “in an efficient manner,” but also said, “I’ve heard nobody take personal responsibility for their own utility bills.”

Another resident, Chuck Starrett, later went over how the city has increased water rates since 2007. Those rate increases are:

• Last quarter of 2007 – 10 percent

• 2008, 2009, and 2010 – 7 percent each year

• 2011 – no increase

• 2012 and 2013 – 20 percent each year

• 2014, 2015, and 2016 – 6 percent each year

“You’re looking at some outlandish prices,” Starrett said.

Tony Pitman of Piqua said that he has lived in the same house in Piqua for 14 years, but his utility bills have not changed over time even though his five kids have moved out.

He also expressed frustration at receiving “threatening letters” in regard to a storm water bill.

“I don’t understand how when it rains, I’m liable for it,” Pitman said.

Paige Stemen of Piqua asked if the solar fields are helping residents. Vogt said that they are owned by an independent company from which they buy power, but with no transmission costs.

Dave Hitchings of Piqua asked a similar question, asking if the solar fields would benefit the residents, such as in lowering fees. City Manager Gary Huff said that they benefit the city by the city not having to pay rising energy costs in the long-term.

Paul Bubeck of Piqua said that he monitored his water usage closely for four months, but his bills were different each time.

Jennifer Tufts of Piqua expressed frustration at living in a flooded home on Fourth Street for four years as well as her parents previously dealing with a flooded home on Cleveland Street.

“This city has screwed my parents, it’s screwed my sister, and it’s screwed me,” Tufts said. Tufts said that the city fixed the flooding issue, “but they wouldn’t fix my house that is full of mold.”

At the end of the meeting, Hinds encouraged residents to reach out to the commissioners with issues.

“I know that there is a lot of passion out there, and I know that there is a lot of pain, and I know there is a lot of frustration,” Hinds said. “We do the best we can do with the information we get from you, with the information that we get as we look through this report … and try to make the best decisions for all of us, because we all live here, and we are a part of this community.”

She added that they will be considering and looking into ways to help residents.

“We are not in a place to make any decisions tonight. That’s not to say that we’re not going to make decisions because we take this very seriously,” Hinds said. She said that, when the commission returns in July, the commissioners will look at the “continuation of these conversations” and where they want to proceed.

“I want to say, on behalf of the commission, thank you,” Hinds said.

Commissioner Kris Lee also encouraged residents to reach out to him and the other commissioners.

“When we know, we can act,” Lee said. “I’m willing to fight for you.”

Commission held special meeting for utilities impact report

By Sam Wildow

Miami Valley Today

Reach Sam Wildow at swildow@aimmediamidwest.com. © 2019 Miami Valley Today, all rights reserved.

Reach Sam Wildow at swildow@aimmediamidwest.com. © 2019 Miami Valley Today, all rights reserved.