By Valerie Baldowski
The discord over utility bills sent to residential customers in Hampton continues.
During Tuesday's City Council meeting, residents packed the council chambers to complain again about high utility bills. Many had initially complained about the bills they received from the city in August, said Hampton City Manager Andy Pippin.
"They were lined up. The hall outside [the council chambers] was full of people," said Sandra Belcher, one of the residents who attended Tuesday's meeting. "Everybody was complaining."
Belcher, a 66-year-old retiree, lives with her husband on Porter Court. She said her bill for August was more than $350. This month, she cut back on at least one appliance, to try to lower her utility bill.
"My [September] bill actually went down about $50, because I quit using the air conditioner in the garage," said Belcher.
The problem stems from the 64 percent fuel recovery surcharge Georgia Power adds to each customer's bill, she said. "That is getting to be the biggest part of the bill," she said. "We're on a fixed income. It's very difficult for us."
Tammy Batchelor, a 25-year Hampton resident, said she read a prepared statement to the council about the trouble she is having paying her utility bill. "I have seen my City of Hampton utility services bill go from being a bill I did not mind opening every month, to a bill that I dread. I have seen my ... utility bill go from being a bill with four amounts on it, to a bill with nine amounts on it," Batchelor told the council.
"Our community is full of single-income families, single parents and fixed income residents. Our incomes have not increased as fast as our cost of living has. In our neighborhood alone, we now have 12 empty homes. People are moving out of Hampton every day, because they can no longer afford to live here."
City Manager Pippin said Wednesday that residents' high bills are the result of factors out of the city's control, such as the extreme heat during the summer months, and the fuel recovery surcharge Georgia Power charges the city.
Hampton passes some of the surcharge on to customers, he said, but the city has tried to hold back from passing on the full amount. "It's increased twice in the past 12 months, and will continue to do so as long as the [Georgia] Public Service Commission allows them [Georgia Power] to do it," Pippin said. "We absorbed about $18,000 last month, that we didn't pass on to citizens."
Georgia Power considers the City of Hampton as one of its "wholesale customers," when it passes its own surcharges on to the city, but not the individual residents buying electricity in Hampton, said Carol Boatright, a Georgia Power corporate communications specialist.
Because of that, the utility was unsure whether it needed to have a representative attend the city council meeting, Boatright said.
The city has not decided what to do about the issue, but Pippin said he is considering revamping its utility cutoff policy. Currently, bills are due the fourth day of the month. They are considered late on the fifth day, and are subject to disconnection on the ninth day, he said.
The Hampton City Manager said he is contemplating establishing an automated phone-call system to contact residences on the ninth day of the month, alerting them to the need to pay their bill by the end of the next business day.
"It basically gives them two more days to make restitution," he added.