Utility Bill Petition Reaches Mayor's Desk

What started as a simple online petition now has nearly 13,000 signatures from customers angry about their utility bills, enough to get the attention of Mayor Dan Pope. Joseph Lee, who started the petition, met with the mayor at City Hall to discuss the signers’ concerns.

Lee said many people were not satisfied with LP&L or the city’s original response.

"We feel like they basically called us stupid because we don't know how to read a bill. Of course, we don't know how to read a bill when they don't make any sense,” Lee said. "If it was couple of hundred people, fine, we don't know how to read a bill. But it is thousands and thousands of people."

The mayor and Lee both said the meeting was productive. They discussed everything from meter-reading, to high bills, to the advantages and disadvantages of regulation. They both agreed, the main issue is a lack of clarity between the city and customers.

"We talked a lot about the impact of bills and the fluctuation of bills, and the impact that has on people, particularly those on fixed incomes,” Mayor Dan Pope said.

LP&L said they are working with the city to make bills easier to understand, but the Water Utilities department is also working to clear up some of the "muddy water."

They have proposed a new rate structure, where customers would fall into one of four blocks, only paying for their usage. Those proposed tiers would have more of a hard line between them: with different brackets at 5,000 gallons of usage, 10,000 gallons, 30,000 gallons, and over 30,000 gallons. The proposal would also roll usage of less than 1,000 gallons into the base rate.

Aubrey Spear, a spokesperson for the department, explained the current three-tier system fluctuates yearly. He explained they are balancing affordability with encouraging water conservation.

“The current rate structure is confusing,” Spear said, adding they hope the change will help people plan ahead. The proposal an item of the city’s budget, and needs to be voted on. If approved, would go into effect in January 2018.

The mayor said with more transparency, everyone will be on the same page. He wanted everyone to remember, though, there are factors that drive prices that are beyond the city's control.

"I mean, we are all citizens, and we are all in this together. I pay water and electricity just like Mr. Lee does,” Mayor Pope said.

Lee said he just wants the city and LP&L to start listening.

"The rates aren’t going to change any time soon, but that's because we didn't get a voice in that,” Lee said. “Nobody asked us, ‘Can we afford the rates to increase?’"

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