Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 14, 2005
By Dennis Palmer
In what is being called a response to rising energy costs and an attempt to become more efficient, Pioneer Electric is "tightening its belt" by trimming staff and considering an automated phone system that would eliminate some customer service positions.
"Some people have retired this week and the layoffs just have to do with cost cutting," said Pioneer spokesperson Linda Horn. "We're cost cutting to deal with the increased cost of power and the (PEC) board has challenged management to cut out everything that is not necessary. Everything that can be cut as far as budget, we're doing that."
Horn said she did not know the extent of the layoffs but said one of the measures being considered is an automated phone system, something she says PEC thought they'd never do.
"We've eliminated a couple of operator positions and we're looking to trim some costs there," she said. "If we have to go to an automated phone system there might be a little longer wait to get a live person."
Margaret Pierce, president of the Rural Electric Members Action Committee, which, according to their web site, was formed to address the rising cost of power and the cooperative's "excessive indebtedness," said the layoffs, while unfortunate, should have happened a long time ago.
"We're pleased that this is happening but feel that this should have happened a long time ago," she said. "It's unfortunate that (the layoffs) happened and I definitely feel for the folks that have been laid off. I still believe there are a lot of things that can be done to make Pioneer Electric a tighter run ship, but perhaps they were a little top heavy in some of their areas of employment and I still believe they are quite a bit top heavy in management."
Horn said one of the cost cutting measures PEC is actively taking is in the area of community sponsorships and support.
"I know that REMAC members have been real critical of any sponsorships we've had," Horn said. "A lot of things we'd like to do as a corporate citizen are going to have to be scrutinized and evaluated closer and closer."
While they may be cutting back, Horn said reliable power and water service is something that will not be affected.
"There's not going to be any interruption in power or anything like that," she said. "We're committed to the quality of service that we've always had with water and electricity and we're going to continue to provide that. This (cost cutting) is just a response to the things that are going on the world relative to the cost of power."
PEC's last kilowatt rate increase was in January 2005.
PEC is also in the process of attempting to sell Acme Propane, a subsidiary that has spelled trouble for the cooperative since they purchased it [fill in date].
"Acme has been for sale for sometime, but I don't know if that is complete," Horn said. "It's no surprise to anyone that that has been an ongoing endeavor and negotiations continue on that."
Pioneer Electric serves 13,500 members households in Butler, Lowndes, Dallas and Wilcox Counties.