City prepared to boost electrial rates

By Sarah Willets

March 15, 2014

LUMBERTON – The Lumberton City Council on Monday is expected to vote on a proposed 3 percent increase for electrical utility rates, but not until after a public hearing.

The council previously voted to support the hike, with the exception of Councilman John Cantey, who voted against it at a meeting in February. Council members who voted for the change contend it’s a necessary evil, noting rates haven’t gone up in six years.

If adopted, the change would raise rates by about .38 cents per kilowatt-hour — about $6 extra each month on a $200 bill.

“I don’t see how we have a whole lot of choice,” Precinct 8 Councilman Erich Hackney said when the increase was first brought up.

The rate adjustment is needed to cover the costs of system upgrades and emergency repairs.

City officials say electrical sales are going down with costs to support the service going up.

Additionally, Lumberton pays about 5 percent of the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency’s $1.87 billion debt, adding to the already-high rates.

One Lumberton resident who lives on Morgan Street said a rate hike would almost surely force him out of the mobile home where he lives alone.

“I’d be willing to pay a little more if they raised the minimum wage,” said a man who called The Robesonian to complain about his electricity bill, and only would identify himself as Mr. Worley.

Last winter, he said his utility bills, which include heat, hovered around $145. His most recent bill came in at $415. He said the bills have steadily been increasing since December.

Worley said he unplugs everything in his home except for his washer and dryer when he leaves for 10-hour shifts at Smithfield Foods each day.

Worley said most of his neighbors are seeing high bills as well.

The increase could also affect the local economy.

Greg Cummings, director of Economic Development for Robeson County, said he could not comment on trends in Lumberton specifically, but that the county has lost prospective businesses to nearby states with lower rates.

“Some of the major losses looking back were with electrical costs and corporate income tax. Now, the state is lowering corporate income tax so we can compete with South Carolina,” Cummings said.

Cummings said taxes, water and sewer, natural gas and electrical rates are big factors for business looking to move into Robeson County.

“I deal with all three electrical providers and it is a complaint that we have because for these companies … it is tough for them to compete with the foreign market,” Cummings said. “When you increase those rates you increase the price of the products.”

Also Monday, the council is expected to endorse negotiations between Duke Energy Progress and ElectriCities for the sale of ElectriCities assets. The endorsement would allow a representative from ElectriCities to discuss the proposed deal with the council during a closed session at its planning conference on March 26.

Lumberton officials are hopeful that the acquisition could mean lower electrical rates in the future.

A hearing will also be held on the construction of a five-story Hampton Inn on Farmbrook Drive, behind an existing Hampton Inn. The property needs to be rezoned in order to allow for a building that tall.

The council will recognize Shane Richardson, the new head football coach at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke; Logan Cameron, a Fairmont Middle School seventh-grader who was recently elected Junior Beta Club vice president; and Capt. Leroy Hardin, who is retiring from the Lumberton Fire Department.

Additionally the council will vote on proposed zoning measures that would help the town regulate electronic gaming operations in the event they became fully legal in the state.