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City commissioners question utility bills

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By Alice Du Pont

Quincy City Commission-er Derrick Elias wasn't in the mood to hear what he called "rhetoric” Tuesday night during the regular meeting of the city commission. Elias said something is wrong and that his own bill this month "threw him for a loop."

City Manager Jack Mclean said when customers come to complain about a utility bill that he or she feels is too high, the first thing he does is look at the history of the customer. One woman, he said, complained about her bill, but when he looked at her usage, it spiked that same time each year. The woman, while she said she had done nothing differently, did turn her thermostat to 72 degrees when she went to bed because she didn't want her house to be cold when she got up on chilly mornings.

"I am unaware of any system problems. There are problems that are on our side but we've done our best to solve them," McLean said.

"I'm not buying what you're saying. I want to be able to tell people why their bills are so high. I have had a bill over $400 and I need some answers," Elias said.

However, there were no answers that McLean could offer because the main argument is with the amount of fuel adjustment cost. The fuel adjustment is set by the Progress Energy not the city of Quincy. McLean said he would not do all that he could to help citizens with their utility bill by helping them with a payment plan if necessary.

McLean said there have been systematic improvements to make sure everything the city does is right.

"We're working to make the system better. We're also changing meters to make sure they are working right. There have been systematic improvements to the system all across the board. We're going to do training at Gadsden Arms Apartments to show people how to bring their costs down," he said.

But McLean said people are paying their bills. Approximately 98 to 99 percent of the customers are paying their bills, up from 84 percent.

Despite the payment rate, Elias said he still questions whether fuel adjustments is calculated properly, if the meters are calibrated properly and if the meter readers are reading correctly. He also said that he's not pleased with customer service, since he waited at the drive-thru to pay his bill what he felt was an inordinate amount of time.

Commissioner Finely Cook recommended that all citizens who have concerns about their utility bills take advantage if the free energy audits offered by the city. He said that each time an audit is conducted, 99 percent of the time it goes back to resident error.

He said people needed to be educated on energy use and how to lower usage.

"Until I see an energy audit on every house that complains, I can't get on board," Cook said.