Commission requests Pioneer Electric to impose moratorium on disconnect/reconnect fees

Published 10:36 am Friday, November 17, 2017

By Fred Guarino

The Lowndes Signal

After a presentation from Commissioner Robert Harris, the Lowndes County Commission voted unanimously on Monday, Nov. 13 to pass a resolution request Pioneer Electric Cooperative to place a moratorium on its disconnect and reconnect fees.

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Also, after a lengthy debate over whether or not the commission agreed to rebid the purchase of diesel fuel and gasoline supplies for the County Highway Department, the commission approved its consent agenda, including its September minutes, over the objection of Harris, who voted “no,” and an objection regarding minutes only by Commissioner Joshua Simmons.

Regarding Pioneer, Harris said in the past 12 years Lowndes County lost about 1,000 residents, 90 percent of whom lived in Pioneer Electric Cooperative’s coverage area.

He said, “Pioneer has created an atmosphere that depresses the citizens here in Lowndes County and is one of the reasons people have left because their power bills are higher than their rent or house payments.”

He said he did a comparison a cooperatives and that Pioneer’s rates were “extremely high.” He said a person disconnected from Pioneer has to pay a $60 disconnection fee and a $60 reconnection fee for a total of $120. He also said Central Alabama and Dixie Electric only charge $40 total for both.

Harris agreed to furnish Commissioner Dickson Farrior with his information.

Harris asked the commission is to go on record asking Pioneer to put a moratorium on their disconnect/reconnect fees.

When contacted about disconnect/reconnect fees, Cleveland Poole, vice-president of Economic Development & Legal Affairs for Pioneer Electric Cooperative Inc. responded, “To answer your initial question, the cost for connection or disconnection is $60+tax for a total of $61.32.”

He said, “We study our rates and fees on an ongoing basis, always with the idea that if a particular member causes a cost (as in this case, causing a service man to make a trip to their house to connect or disconnect a meter), that member should pay that cost, rather than have it spread among all of the membership.”

Poole said, “Our costs are greater than other providers typically as the areas covered are greater and our members live further apart (we have less than five members for every mile of line we have).”

He said, “In order to assist folks in meeting their power bills, we offer cycle billing – we bill four weeks a month – and will let members get on whichever cycle better suits their income stream. In addition, we offer pre-paid service…. like paying for your gas before you drive your car, with pre-pay service, you pay for your electricity in advance.”

He said, “If you are a prepay member, there is no connection fee.  And, if your power is cut off for non-pay, there is no disconnect or reconnect fee – you can handle it all on-line or over the phone.”

The debate over the minutes and the fact that diesel fuel and gasoline were not rebid began when Commission Administrator Jackie Thomas reported a correction made by Commissioner Joseph Barganier to the minutes that It wasn’t the commissioners as a whole, but commissioner Harris who asked the County Engineer David Butts about rebidding those items.

Harris said, “It was agreed upon by the board.” And Simmons added, “Not just Robert.”

Thomas said when Harris asked Butts to rebid, “Nobody said anything.” But Simmons indicated that he also spoke up.

Harris said, “It was agreed upon… I just don’t understand. But I’m trying to hold it, but I just can’t allow that to go by. This board agreed upon it, and now It’s been changed.”

Thomas said she does not change minutes, but errors have been pointed out.

Simmons asked, “So why wasn’t it rebid?” And Harris insisted that the items bid were separate. However, Butts explained that bids are sent to the vendor and a price is asked for gas and diesel. “But they are not separate,” he said. “It’s like a group thing, but you’re giving a price of each deal.” He said, “The oil is really bid together too, but we itemize it. We bid it together because I couldn’t see where we would just bid hydraulic oil and then bid just motor oil. So, what we do is we bid everything together. We send it out to the oil vendor. Now a lot of time a lot people will be cheaper at certain thing, but …  the one that we order the most is kind of what drives everything.”

Commissioner Carnell McAlpine called for the end the debate and move on. And attorney Malika Fortier, who appeared in place of her father, County Attorney Hank Sanders, pointed out someone can make a motion to stop the debate on a motion or the chairman can call the conversation to order.

She told Harris the rules have been in place since 2005.

Harris ended saying, “So, we are going to turn this county commission into a dictatorship?”

The consent agenda approved included: September minutes, invoices, an appropriation to the Lowndes County Health Advisory of $1,500, a USDA grant application for more camera at the jail, an appropriation of $2,500 to the Burkville Volunteer Fire Department, an appropriation of $1,500 to Life Changing Communities Outreach ($500 each from McAlpine, Barganier and Dickson Farrior) and the appointment of Peggie Johnson to the Lowndes County Water Authority.

The commission approved holidays for county employees other than the Highway Department for Christmas and New Year’s as Dec. 25-26 and Jan. 1-2.

Butts reported dirt work is being done on Lowndes County Road 33. He said not much dirt work is needed on Lowndes County Road 45 (Blue Hill Road), which he said should go fast.

He said the contractor started on Lowndes County Road 26 on Monday with patching and paving (from County Road 6 to the Montgomery County line).

Butts said he will advertise for a mechanic and a superintendent position.

In another matter the commission unanimously approved a bid of Bobby Smith LLC Heating and Air in Letohatchee for air conditioning units at the OCAP building shared by the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Department but to negotiate the size of the units.

And Sheriff John Williams reported that Love’s Travel Stops and County Stores are expected to open in mid-December.