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City/WG&L discussion grows testy

ALBANY, Ga. -- There was not a trace of irony in Ward I Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard's voice Tuesday as he dredged up the now-cliched Rodney King quote: "Can't we all just get along?"

Howard's plea came after often contentious exchanges among Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell, Mayor Dorothy Hubbard and Water, Gas & Light Commission Director Lem Edwards and attorney John Vansant III became heated during a discussion of WG&L's budget at a City Commission work session Tuesday morning.

Hubbard gaveled Postell down on a number of occasions during the discussion, urging him to "make your point and get on with your question."

Postell angrily told Vansant and Edwards they had not provided the information he needed to answer questions about what he said was more than $1 million budgeted by the city for repairs on the utility's facilities.

"You asked specifically for funding to repair your roof and fix elevators; there was never anything said about backhoes and trucks and other equipment," Postell said.

Vansant assured him the request for the repairs and equipment was in City Commission minutes.

"Approval was brought to (WG&L) by Dr. (then-Mayor Willie) Adams," Vansant said. "The minutes will show every piece of equipment (purchased by WG&L)."

Hubbard again called for order, saying, "The minutes will show who said what and what was done with the money."

Asked by Postell to justify a 10 percent rate hike in March, which Postell called "out of line," Vansant said a particularly mild winter had left the utility with a funding shortfall.

"We plan our budgets based on averages from the five previous years' costs," Vansant said. "We can't plan for a mild winter. We try to wait until it's absolutely necessary to raise rates. Yes, we're guilty of that."

Vansant said the rapidly increasing cost to supply power, which had risen from $58,568,000 in 2009 to $71,748,000 in Fiscal Year 2012, would not slow any time soon. He said projections for the next few years called for increases of $17 million in 2013, $22 million in 2014, $26 million in 2015, $28 million in 2016 and $33 million in 2017.

Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike said the projected increases indicate an even stronger need for the city and WG&L to work together.

"It seems a lot of things, if we worked closer, could be used to save the ratepowers in the city money," Pike said. "For instance, some of your needs could possibly be paid for through SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) funds.

"Our ratepayers are the ones who lose because we have a broken system. I'd like to see us fix that, because what we're doing now is not working."

Hubbard, who also serves as chair of the WG&L board and is trying to foster a closer working relationship between the two entities, instructed City Commissioners to bring her specific questions they'd like to see answered by WG&L.

Also at the work session, Public Works Director Phil Roberson sought and received tentative approval to begin the bidding process on the paving of 26 alleys in the city. He said the paving process would take six months once final approval is granted.

Roberson also said Public Works would start working with the city's Engineering department to determine which alleys not on the paving list would most benefit from a surface of much-cheaper crushed asphalt. City voters approved a half-million dollars in SPLOST VI funding for the crushed asphalt.

"Where it costs $125 a foot to pave an alley, it takes about $25 a foot to put down crushed asphalt," he said.

Commissioners also gave tentative approval to a requested waiver of the city's noise ordinance for the Oct. 12-14 Georgia Throwdown at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds; voted 4-1-1 to approve alcohol license requests for Better Brands of Georgia, Bowl-A-Rama and for one-day March of Dimes and Albany Advocacy Resource Center events.

The board tabled a license request from Davis Neighborhood Grocery & Grill and failed to second a motion on a similar request from 60/40 Bar & Grill.

The Commission also voted not to allow employee spouses who work at an establishment that offers health insurance to be covered under the city's group plan; approved a $290,856 FAA grant that will pay 90 percent of terminal construction and parking improvements at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport, and approved a joint resolution with Dougherty County asking Congress to avoid threatened sequestration that would require mandatory discretionary budget cuts and hurt military installations such as Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany.

Comments

Abytaxpayer 1 year, 12 months ago

Our ratepayers are the ones who lose because what we're doing now is not working. Yep stealing MEAG funds is a big winner for everyone but the ratepayers.

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KaosinAlbany 1 year, 12 months ago

I was going to say the pot calling the kettle black. Postell is full of himself and I am glad the Mayor had the back bone to stand up to him. Thank you Mayor Hubbard.

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WeAreThey 1 year, 12 months ago

Milder winter = lower costs for electricity and gas that WG&L had to buy to re-sell to us. A milder winter should have equalled fewer hours worked, less equipment usage and lower maintenance costs. If it didn't, then Mayor Hubbard should be the one asking the tough questions. If it did, then the Mayor better be telling Mr. Edwards how to decrease his expenses to match his revenue. A rate increase is government waste at its finest.

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RedEric 1 year, 12 months ago

A law called PURPA is still in effect. WG&L is a gateway (I am not sure of terms). They distribute energy purchased outside. PURPA requires they use competitive bidding for supplied energy and limit the add on amount. It doesn't care if you have a bad year. So, we need to see the bidding procedure, a list of the bidders and what the add on was. Does anyone know about this?

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ObjectiveEyes 1 year, 12 months ago

I admit that I'm not smart enough to completely understand the management of a utility company, but, how much of the increase is due to Obama when he said, "...under my plan energy costs will increase..." ? Or something like that...

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VSU 1 year, 12 months ago

They always do this to us. They want us to conserve water, but penalize us with a rate increase because we don't use enough water. same way with Gas. I was happy to not have to run my heater as much to save money but once again get hit with a rate increase because we didn't use enough gas. The customer always gets the shaft, it's a no win situation. You are going to pay one way or the other.

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