Manager reports on utilitiesPublished 10:28am Friday, April 12, 2013
BY ANDREW FAISON/CONTRIBUTING WRITER
FRANKLIN—Franklin’s City Manager Randy Martin gave an update during Monday’s city council meeting on the continued investigation and outreach efforts to address concerns about utility rates expressed since late February.
“Each member of City Council including the mayor has made this a high priority and counseled with me about these citizen concerns,” Martin said.
The city’s Community Development Department has contacted Southeastern Tidewater Opportunity Program Inc. (STOP) representatives for their help to inform qualifying homeowners and landlords of money for weatherization and energy-efficiency enhancements to homes needing these improvements.
“The City has requested that STOP staff physically come to Franklin and setup a designated time and place for interested citizens to obtain information on assistance programs and help applying for funds,” Martin said. “We hope to finalize details soon with public announcements of program details through the media and on the City’s Peg Channel.”
He continued, “I am encouraged that the City and STOP will partner to bring the service conveniently to Franklin residents.”
The utility billing staff has received over 40 inquiries from customers ranging from questions about activities reported in the media that elevate bills, to tips for energy conservation, and to concerns that some landlords were not being responsive to tenant electrical issues.
Martin said his staff has counseled with customers and made referrals to the Power & Light Department for energy audits. In cases involving citizens concerned about their property conditions, referrals were made to the Community Development Department to arrange for housing condition and code compliance inspections.
“Franklin Power & Light Department has received five requests within the last week from customers for energy audits with two scheduled but remaining to be completed,” Martin said. “The Department has received 10 additional meter reread requests since March 25 with no errors found. The Community Development Department has received one inspection request with this tenant-occupied property inspection scheduled to be coordinated with an energy audit later this week.”
Martin said he personally has received 19 inquiries and requests since the Council meeting and continues to evaluate and meet with those customers.
“Some of these customers have agreed at my suggestion to have energy audits and/or inspections and some are included in the contacts listed above made directly to the departments,” he said.
Martin and Power & Light staff have combined given three separate demonstrations of the city’s meter reading equipment to members of the City Council including the mayor, representatives of The Tidewater News and to the Concerned Citizen Group.
Of all the meter reads and demonstrations performed, staff has thus far identified one meter that was not functioning properly.
“This finding has been shared with media and the Concerned Citizen Group,” Martin said. “The malfunctioning meter has been replaced and then shipped off for a third-party evaluation to determine the source of the malfunction.”
The results will be shared with all interested parties once they are received.
“On Thursday, March 28, the meter reading equipment was demonstrated to concerned citizens at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center,” he said. “Approximately 40 concerned citizens attended and participated,” he continued. “After the demonstration I spoke directly to the group and reiterated the desire of the mayor, City Council and staff to address their concerns, and encouraged them to make an effort to contact the city for assistance with their concerns.”
Martin said he and his staff would continue to assist concerned customers in an effort to address all concerns. To this end, they are considering additional random meter checks with elected officials represented.
“I am somewhat discouraged that some customers who expressed concerns to billing staff have not pursued other assistance,” he said. “I am also disappointed that some customers who made appointments to discuss their concerns failed to appear or cancelled.”
Martin pledged to remain committed to this investigation.
“To the best of my ability I pledge to keep the Council involved and to further inform citizens on how they can assist us, and in so doing help themselves as we utilize all available resources to spread the word on energy savings tips to city utility customers, in the hope that customer usage and thereby electric utility bills will be reduced going forward,” he said.