Commissioners sign Pioneer Electric moratorium resolution, approve resolution regarding opioid pharmaceutical litigation

Published 1:55 pm Thursday, November 30, 2017

By Fred Guarino

The Lowndes Signal

In a brief session of the Lowndes County Commission, Monday, Nov. 27, Commission Attorney Hank Sanders presented commissioners with a draft of a resolution requesting Pioneer Electric Cooperative to place a one-year moratorium on all disconnect and reconnect fees.

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Also, after meeting in executive session on legal matters, the commission approved a resolution to engage the law firm of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor PA to represent the county in potential litigation against contributors of the “opioid epidemic which is plaguing Lowndes County.”

The commission unanimously approved a resolution requesting a moratorium on the disconnect and reconnect fees by Pioneer Electric Cooperative at its Monday, Nov. 13 meeting.

According to the resolution drafted by Sanders and presented to the commission for their signatures at the Monday, Nov. 27 meeting, the moratorium would be for the period of one year from Dec. 1, 2017 until Nov. 30, 2018.

The resolution states, “The Lowndes County Commission is very concerned about the citizens of Lowndes County” who have “limited financial resources.”

It states, “Pioneer Electric Cooperative provides electric services to many of Lowndes County’s citizens at a higher rate than other utility entities” and, “the disconnect and reconnect fees are particularly burdensome on the families with the least financial resources.”

It further states that, “The commission and Pioneer Electric Cooperative have a duty to help those least able to help themselves.”

Following the commission’s unanimous vote to request a moratorium on connect and disconnect fees on Nov. 13, the Signal contacted Cleveland Poole, vice-president of Economic Development & Legal Affairs for Pioneer Electric Cooperative Inc.

Poole 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 also 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).”

And 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.”

According to a resolution approved at the Monday, Nov. 27 meeting regarding potential litigation against contributors of an opioid addiction crisis, the county desires to retain the law firm of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor PA “to advise and represent the county regarding litigation and the award of damages from the contributors of opioids within the county.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others. These drugs are chemically related and interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain.”

Sanders said by engaging the law firm regarding the opioid crisis, Lowndes County, “Will be joining other counties across the country and some big cities to file a lawsuit against those big pharmaceutical companies who made and distributed (opioids).

Sheriff John Williams declined to comment on the opioid crisis.

The commission also voted unanimously to appropriate $400 to the Hayneville Christmas Parade. The allocations are $200 each from Commissioner Robert Harris and Commission Chairman Carnell McAlpine.

In other matters, County Engineer David Butts reported that the paving of County Road 26 is being completed. He said County Roads 33 and Blue Hill road are basically finished.  He said Lowndes County Road 45 will be the last Rural Assistance Match Program (RAMP) project.

He said Lowndes County Roads 6 and 32 will be the next federal aid projects.

He asked commissioners to think about the selection for next federal aid project for 2018. He said minor collector roads can be done, but there is limit of federal money on minor collectors.

Commissioner Robert Harris asked Butts for a list of all the country roads and their grades.

Butts said advertisements are still running for a mechanic and a superintendent for the County Highway Department.

Commissioner Joshua Simmons was absent from the Monday, Nov. 27 meeting.