The three different types of meters used in the City of Franklin are displayed on a table along with an Electronic Radio Transmitter, in front, that transmits data on the kilowatts used to a meter reader electronically. -- ANDREW FAISON/TIDEWATER NEWS
The three different types of meters used in the City of Franklin are displayed on a table along with an Electronic Radio Transmitter, in front, that transmits data on the kilowatts used to a meter reader electronically. -- ANDREW FAISON/TIDEWATER NEWS

Archived Story

Citizens talk utilities

Published 2:27pm Saturday, April 6, 2013

Energy Saving Tips

Top tips for saving energy in your home from the U.S. Department of Energy

  1. Plug home electronics into power strips with surge protection. Turn the strip off when the equipment is not in use.
  2. Replace regular light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs).
  3. Install a programmable thermostat and set it to adjust the temperature throughout the day
  4. Clean or replace furnace/air-conditioning filters every month.
  5. Use a fan to help your air conditioner spread cooled air more effectively.
  6. Draw shades closed to block sunlight in the summer, open in the winter to warm an area.
  7. Weather-strip and caulk around doors and windows to rid your house of drafts and prevent leaking of heated and cooled air.
  8. Use warm or cold water for washing clothes and always use cold water for rinsing.
  9. Use an automatic clothes-drying cycle instead of a timed cycle. Put in the next load quickly to make use of leftover heat.
  10. If your primary refrigerator is at least 10 years old, consider replacing it with an ENERGY STAR® qualified model.

Editors Note: This is the second in a two part series. 

BY ANDREW FAISON/CONTRIBUTING WRITER
andrew.faison@tidewaternews.com

FRANKLIN—The Tidewater News sat down recently with members of Concerned Citizens Against High Utility Bills including group spokesperson Dr. Linwood Johnson, Herman Parker, Charles Grant, Brother Bashir and Joe Ingram, in a continuing endeavor to give citizens a voice in the issues over escalating utility costs.

The Tidewater News staff included Associate Publisher Tony Clark, Managing Editor Lucy Wallace and Contributing Writer Andrew Faison. Questions were posed to the citizen representatives on what they want from the city moving forward. The dialogue among the citizens brought forth five main points the group felt were the key concerns (highlighted in bold).

Third-party investigations of meters, electric grid

“The citizens right now don’t trust the city,” said Joe Ingram. “They have said at a council meeting that they don’t have the equipment they need to do the testing. That is why we want someone else to look into this.”

Group spokesperson Dr. Linwood Johnson notes that when the group asked for an initial investigation they were referring to bringing in a third-party for the investigation.

“All City Council has done so far is directed the City Manager to go out and work with people one-on-one,” Johnson said. “That is not going to work because that is a long, long process. This is not a one-on-one problem — it’s a group problem.”

The group noted the electrical grid itself has not been evaluated because if the electric current is not properly coming from the pole, the meter could possibly read electricity that is not being used.

“After doing research – that could very well be the case because the electrical grid has not been checked out in years,” Johnson said.

The group notes this third-party investigation has to be done before the one-on-one inspections of homes are performed.

“You will never find the solution to the problem without performing these steps first,” Johnson said.

The group notes that the city does not have the proper equipment to do home energy audits.

“The city needs the blower door equipment like the STOP (Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Project) organization and Parker Darden has,” Johnson said. “The city needs the equipment to do these studies properly. You can not just look at a house and tell where air may or may not be leaking.”

Mayor, Council need to be more involved

The group feels Franklin City Council needs to more directly deal with the people and hear the people.

“We didn’t put the city manager in office, we put city council in office,” said Dr. Linwood Johnson.

“The mayor told us to work with the city manager,” said Joe Ingram. “The city manager works for City Council but City Council works for us the citizens of Franklin.”

The group noted that even after inviting all members of council to their Ward meetings, no council member has attended.

“We want to know their individual positions on the issue,” Johnson. “Not just to direct the City Manger to do something.

“We want to be on the agenda for a city council meeting to have an open discussion,” Johnson said.

When originally bringing his problem before the Mayor and City Council Herman Parker was directed to present his problem to City Manager Randy Martin.

“She said she had other concerns and directed me to Mr. Martin,” he said.

Parker believes that there are certain people that receive different light bill rates.

“Its because of this I want to know why the bigwigs of the city: the Mayor, City Manager or City Attorney are not complaining about a high light bill,” he said.

The group wants to know what the Mayor, Vice-Mayor and each of the other council members thoughts and plans are to resolve this issue. “Because all of them are in charge of the electrical department,” Johnson said.

“Also because this is not a Northside versus Southside of Franklin problem,” said Joe Ingram. “This is this is truly a city problem. We have found electric issues all over the city.”

The group notes there are some houses in the city that may need weatherization.

“Not everyone of the homes need that,” Johnson said.

The group also feels that City Council needs to be more proactive in bringing in new industry to diversify the tax revenue.

“We are currently looking at a city that is dependent on its citizens for survival instead of industry,” Johnson said. “That is too much of a burden for our citizens to bear.”

Meters should be calibrated more often

The group wants the electric meters tested more than once every 10 years.

“That is entirely too long,” said Joe Ingram. “The police calibrate their radar gun every day – that is a measuring tool. A car is maintained more than once every 10 years. So why is it that our meters are only maintained once ever 10 years.”

Ingram admits when he first got his first high bill he thought something might have been wrong with his home.

“After comparing with my neighbors, we noticed everybody’s bill was high,” Ingram said. “We noticed that everyone in my neighborhood had a similar bill – same range for both usage and cost. So there has to be a problem with the system somewhere.”

Ingram noted in order to reduce his bill he has gone out of town for two weeks with everything unplugged.

“I came back and my bill was still as high as it was the month before,” he said. “All these kilowatts are not being used.”

Charles Grant notes that in his four to five times of approaching Franklin Power and Light no one has acknowledged to checking the meter.

“If someone is going to come out and check our meters from Power and Light, the person that is going to stop by, you would think would get in contact with me to let me know they are there,” Grant said.

The group noted on the electro-mechanical meters there is a screw labeled F/S.

“The screw can be adjusted to speed up or slow down a meter,” Johnson said. “If the case is taken off it can be manipulated. Some of the meters I have seen personally – that screw has been pointing to the F mark.” He indicated the F stands for fast and the S for slow.

(See Tampering with the F or S screws on old meters for more coverage.)

Split the Utility Bill and late fee

The group notes they want to see the utility bills split up into separate bills and dissolve the $50 fee associated with restoring service.

“People are saying don’t turn my lights off just because I don’t pay my water bill,” said Joe Ingram.

The group noted in the City of Suffolk all the utilities were on separate bills.

“Where as all of ours are together,” Ingram said.

The group feels because of this some citizens light service has been cut off just for owing money to another utility service.

“When your electricity is cut off you must pay a $50 dollar charge just to have service restored,” Johnson said.

“Dominion does not charge this fee,” he added.

Allow the citizens over two extensions a year

The group wants the city to allow its citizens more than two extensions per year on their utility bills

“Because of economic circumstances citizens need more than two,” said Dr. Linwood Johnson. “People can not keep up with their bills.”

The group notes there are a number of senior citizens living on a fixed income and cannot afford all of the utility cost increases.

Trying to conserve on his electric bill has been a goal of retiree Charles Grant.

“I have winterized my house with storm windows and new doors,” Grant said. “My wife and I have gone to the point of living in one room during the daytime and only use heat in that one room.”

“Yet no matter what I do my bill keeps going up,” he continued.

“There are a number of individuals who have not been able to buy groceries in months,” Johnson stressed. “Some can’t even buy the necessary medicine they need.”


Social Services provides
assistance for 1,645

FRANKLIN—In 2012 Social Services provided a total $330,010.79 in customer utility assistance for 1,645 customers in Franklin.

These funds came from the federally funded energy assistance program. There are three separate programs: heating assistance, crisis assistance and cooling assistance.

“The programs are almost specifically income based,” said Director of Social Services Alan Hogge. “So it is a low-income home energy assistance program. This program is not unique to Franklin — it is in all the areas.”

Hogge notes that the Crisis Program is different.

“For that program there has to be a heating emergency,” he said. “Usually individuals don’t have a heating system.”

Crisis assistance just recently closed its application process for the year. Cooling assistance program will be the next to open on June 15.

“One of the qualifying factors for that program is there has to be either a child under the age of six or an individual that is disabled,” Hogge said.

Hogge notes that in the previous winter months some customers’ entire bill was paid.

“Some of those that had lower bills, their bills were completely paid,” Hogge said. “Depending on the federal formula some individuals do receive more, but again that is all based on the federal formula. We don’t even know what the formula is ahead of time.”

Hogge does note however that the remainder of the bill has to be paid by the individual.

“That is up to the city, oil company or whoever the citizen has to pay. It goes through the same process as if someone who didn’t pay their bill.”

“We will pay our portion though,” he continued. “In some cases if an individual’s bill was $200 and we paid $250, the additional $50 would carry over to help them the next month.”

Those eligible can apply online at www.commonhelp.virginia.gov or at Franklin Social Services office at 306 N. Main St.

—Andrew Faison


 


Transfer of funds explained

Franklin City Manager Randy Martin further explained the transfer of funds the city receives from the local utility. In Wednesday’s Tidewater News article “An Electric Explanation”, Martin said if Franklin were to do away with Franklin Power & Light, there would no longer be a transfer of money and property taxes would go up.

Franklin has had its own public utility since 1892 and the transfer has been n place since the beginning, although the level has changed over the years.

The city’s general fund currently receives a $1.4 million transfer from the electric fund for the purpose of offsetting city expenses.

“Without this transfer we would have to raise current taxes by $0.24 cents per $100 valuation. The city benefits from the transfer, to help fund the general fund.” If the city did not receive this transfer of money into the general fund, the tax rate would rise from the current $.90 to $1.14.

Martin noted in the previous article that the city could look into raising the tax rate to lower electric rates but that it would have to be done during the budget process.

—Andrew Faison


  • localcitizen

    There is a real simple solution to this problem: if you don’t like the amount of your electric bill, then use less electricity! Whining and complaining won’t change anything. Some times sacrifices are necessary. Deal with it like adults!

    Suggest Removal

  • employee2

    “The city needs the equipment to do these studies properly. You can not just look at a house and tell where air may or may not be leaking.”
    On some of the residences, you can. If you can see light, there is a gap for air to pass through.
    Also if the two agencies mentioned have these devices use them and hire them.

    Suggest Removal

  • handkusp45

    This group has killed up enough time and taxpayer money trying to get “free stuff”. There seems to be no basis for their complaints. As a last resort perhaps they could get Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson here and then appear on MSNBC. Or contact Obama. Perhaps he could stop by on his way to his next vacation destination and deliver some more of my tax money to freeloaders.

    Suggest Removal

  • thomasmore

    Gas is pretty pricey now. Can the city buy me gas? By the way, I drive a 32,000 dollar vehicle which gets MAYBE 15 miles to the gallon. But if you’re giving free handouts, I’m in!

    Suggest Removal

  • Typhoon

    What a shame that the City Manager,City Council and Franklin electric & power has to spend so much time on a problem that truly does not exist electic wise. the real problem is from an individual who wants to get in the limelight to make a name for himself and divide the community.

    Suggest Removal

    • employee2

      Bingo, winner, winner, chicken dinner~!

      Suggest Removal

    • jsheeh9427

      The community was divided long before this group was ever formed.

      Suggest Removal

  • wiskeymike

    Global warming will fix all this

    Suggest Removal

  • movingrightalong

    I checked my kWH used the past 3 months of 2103 (Jan, Feb, March) against the same 3 months of 2012.

    My kWH used in 2013 for those 3 months was 8453 kWH.

    In 2012 I used 6036 in those same months.

    That roughly 40% higher in 2013 than in 2012.

    My bill is higher because I used more. The reason I used electricity is that it was much colder in 2013 during that time than it was in 2012.

    Also, I had my heating system serviced, cleaned, repaired, and replaced a worn out part this summer.

    And my bills are higher as expected.

    Suggest Removal

  • jsheeh9427

    I think there is some validity to the groups concern. My house is 174 years old so I know all about energy conservation and the right insulation making all the difference. When we first moved here in 2006 our January electric bill was 660. So we tore some walls down and insulated, replaced walls. Electric bill was drastically reduced to around 300. (Water/Electric/Garbage/Sewer)
    Then comes this January and the electric bill was 630. Thought it was a fluke, February was 650 and then March was 570. So I think there is something going on. I know my meter has never been looked at the whole time I have lived here.

    And all those tips they gave out, we did back in 2006. And it showed the following month.

    I think it has nothing to do with getting anything free. I have no problem paying my bill. I have a problem when I fork out more in utility bills then I do with my mortgage.

    I also think the groups concerns bring up a more serious issue. The city officials were elected by the people for the people. So when any citizen asks a question of their elected officials they have a duty to respond in a timely manner. They work for us, not the other way around. So if your boss at works asks you for a report, I bet your on it and giving it to them in a timely manner. Same applies here. The people are the boss, they are the employees. I think they need to be reminded where their place is.

    But I have to give credit to the city. Like all good politicians they are saying the study will take a long period of time to be conducted. Then they come back and say they don’t have the right equipment. So they are hoping that the group will forget about it because it will take too long. This way the city doesn’t really have to do anything and no one looks bad. The city or the group.

    Suggest Removal

    • employee2

      You didn’t state “how” your home is heated, so I will assume a heat pump. Have you had anyone with a heating/ac company do any maintenance on your unit. Things go wrong and cause higher bills. Just a thought. Some have had maintenance and still break down before the next check.

      Suggest Removal

  • mdks26

    This just gets more ridiculous with every article I read. Someone just needs to say ENOUGH and be done with it. The more this groups says the more I see the true form of ignorance – meaning even when they are explained the truth they still refuse to believe it……you know why? because the truth doesn’t have FREE in it and that is what this is all about. What can I get for FREE!!

    Suggest Removal

  • concernedcitizen

    this article really shows this groups ignorance. They should be embarrassed. They need to listen to listen to the officials about how things really work. hey just want a forum for people to listen to them ramble about things they have no idea about. This is truly a joke.

    Suggest Removal

  • movingrightalong

    When I was younger and first out on my own, I lived in an old house that had practically no insulation. I learned real quick how to be conservative and keep the heat turned down so my bills were not higher than necessary. I also took responsibility and made sure to block drafty doors and windows using plastic, insulation, or whatever was available to keep the cold air outside and the warm air inside.
    NEVER during the entire time I lived in that old house did I ever complain to the power company that their rates were too high or unfair, nor did I blame the landlord for owning an old house. I didn’t have to rent that house, and the cost to completely renovate the home would have been prohibitive and made no sense for the landlord to do so.
    It never crossed my mind to call newspapers or TV stations and complain about my electric bill.
    What I did do was work my butt off so that I could eventually afford to build a house of my own and properly insulate it while it was being built. My electric and gas bills have been higher than ever this winter, and I keep my thermostat at 62 and cut it down during the day when I am working. It still has not occured to me to blame the electric company, gas company, the city, the county, elected officials, George Bush, Obama, or anyone else for the high bills resulting from an unusually cold winter.
    I wish the media would stop giving these people a forum to use to complain. Imagine if the people complaining had used the time they were protesting to try and work on their own homes.

    Suggest Removal

    • Liberty With Responsibility

      The complainers would tell you you were a sucker back then, but that they now know better how to “get over” and you didn’t, so too bad for you. They see the momentum in this country rolling in THEIR direction, and they intend to KEEP things going their way! We fools who self-sacrificed and delayed our gratification to “have something” one day after we worked and saved for it are now “dinosaurs,” and our kind is dying out, the the NEW BREED of Americans who live like grasshoppers, instead of like the “ants” we are, are taking over. Pretty sad to see Amerika falling like this, but many of us have been warning of this foolishness all along. . . . .

      Suggest Removal

  • workingtodamill

    Oh my, do these people listen to what is coming out of their mouths??? Suffolk doesn’t put the electric in their bills? Maybe that is because Suffolk doesn’t provide electricity. They want the city to provide the equipment and the people to see if their house I energy efficient? How do you heat just 1 room, unless you are using a space heater, which, chews up some electricity. The city is responsible for everything up to the meter, past that it is the property owners. So since apparently I am on the good billing rate I am supposed to use my tax money to help these folks fix their house?? Heck I need a new roof, you guys gonna help me pay for that?

    Suggest Removal

  • employee2

    Dr. Johnson should be ashamed of himself. There is no way the meter will read usage that is not passing through the meter. The path from the pole to the meter is the only way the power gets into the home..through the meter. The meter measures both voltage and current and converts it into watts. Watts are what you are billed in kilowatts. A kilowatt is 1000 watts. One kilowatt/hour is 1000 watts for one hour. I suggest that dr. Johnson go speak to Anthony king from pdcc. He is the electric instructor.

    Suggest Removal

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