Resident: Opp rate hike is price gouging

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Opp Utilities Board heard complaints about rate increases from three different residents and told each they would look into their concerns, but took no action on any of them.

Mack Whatley, who ran for mayor in the most recent election, was concerned because he said in the notice from the utilities board notifying residents of the rate change it says they can save money through lowered consumption. Whatley said that since the increase is on the base rate, that’s simply not true.

Stacey Parker, general manager of the utilities, said that they had a choice to increase the meter charge or consumption charge.

Whatley said he thought they should pass it along through the usage instead of base rate.

“You’re gouging,” he said.

Parker explained that the rate study, which was conducted by Jackson Thornton Utilities Consultants, recommended that they make up their shortfall on fixed charges.

Using FY2013 data, Jim Marshall told the board how bad their systems were underfunded.

The water system only collected $868,712 in FY2013, which meant the water system was underfunded by $400,000.

The sewer side looked much worse.

It needed $1.45 million to operate, but only collected $687,707, which means that it had shortfall of nearly $770,000 in FY2013.

The board agreed in January to add $8.50 increase in the bills starting in April. Another $8.50 increase will be added in Oct. 1. Whatley then asked Parker how much he was paid.

When Parker did not respond immediately, he replied, “I’m a taxpayer.”

Parker said he was paid $70,000 a year.

Whatley said that $20 was going to hurt poor people.

Board attorney David Baker asked Whatley if he wanted to enter a public objection.

He did.

“I can afford it,” he said. “But I think you should raise the usage. If I water my garden, I’ll pay for it. (They way you’re doing it) is a gouge on poor people.”

Board member Charles Willis said they have to have the money.

“I’m complaining and it ain’t gonna do no good and it’s not fair,” Whatley said.

Aaron Bogen asked the board to give two or three extensions on utility bills.

Parker told him that they take them on a case-by-case basis and often do give more than one per year.

“A lot of people don’t mind paying the $25,” Bogen said. “They have a lot of kids and school comes and Christmas. Give them more than one extension.”

Bogen said there needs to be more jobs in Opp.

“I know Stacey has to follow the rules,” he said.

Mayor Becky Bracke told Bogen board members were trying to figure it out.

David Markham also spoke to the board because he doesn’t want to give his Social Security number or pay a deposit to turn on his power and water at a new property he has purchased.

He argued that he doesn’t have to give his Social Security number to them.

He said he fought the same battle when he first came to Opp and his girlfriend supplied her information.

Markham said they haven’t missed a payment.

The Opp Utilities Board, like many utilities, uses Social Security numbers to check credit scores to determine the amount of the required deposit.

Those range from $150 to $400.

He asked them to reconsider that for landowners.

He also wanted interest on his money if he decided to pay the deposit.

“I think if you’re going to use my money, I should have interest,” he said. “It’s a moral judgment.”