FRONT ROYAL – Citizens can expect a slight bump in their utility bills as Town Council on Monday approved rates that may result in $3 monthly increases.
The increase was approved by a 4-1 vote with Councilman Chris Holloway dissenting and Councilman Jacob Meza absent. Holloway did not give any reason for his opposing vote.
The increase is meant to offset increasing costs of purchasing power, transmission and congestion fees. Set to take effect March 25, the changes will result in an about $3 increase on residential properties during the coldest months and a $30 increase on commercial properties using 3,000 kilowatt-hours.
The customer charge also increased by $1.50.
Energy Services Direct David Jenkins explained that power cost adjustment fees, which are varying charges meant to offset the price of purchasing power, will decrease.
Ann Orndorff, the co-owner of Springtime Garden Center, was the lone speaker during a public hearing regarding the increase. She said that the new rates are a concern for small business owners such as herself.
She added that it is also likely to cause issues for retired citizens and single parents, many of whom she said struggled to pay bills this winter.
Councilman Eugene Tewalt noted that this is the first time the town has raised utility rates in 10 years and the time has simply come when the action must be taken to keep up with expenditures. He added that the town is not making any profits off the utility bills except what it reserves for emergencies.
According to previous reports, Front Royal will go from being the eighth cheapest to the 12th cheapest of Virginia electric utilities.
The increase came by way of suggestion from GDS Associates, a third party firm the town hired to conduct a cost study. The firm also suggested that the average monthly bills and customer charge continue to increase through 20221.
The council then unanimously approved the write-off of $277,974 in bad debts stemming from unpaid utility bills on accounts that had no activity for five years.
Tewalt noted that the town does everything it can do to collect past due utility bills, but many of the bad debts are on rental properties. He said when renters leave town it is hard to track down their locations.
Holloway agreed, noting that the costs incurred to find people who moved out of town would be higher than money garnered by collecting their bills.
Councilman Letasha Thompson noted that staff does an “amazing job” collecting debts and the amount being forgiven represents 0.5 percent of utility bills.