LUMBERTON — Lumberton utility customers are expected to see a 6.7 percent reduction in their electrical rates as soon as September.
The City Council voted in favor of that reduction during its Council Policy Committee meeting on Wednesday and a public hearing on the matter will be held during Monday’s City Council meeting before it is officially approved. The reduced rates would be reflected on usage on and after Sept. 1.
The reduction is the result of Duke Energy’s recent purchase of assets held by the North Carolina Eastern Municipal Power Agency, a cooperative of 32 municipalities that includes Lumberton and Red Springs.
The $1.2 billion deal, which closed on July 31, alleviates much of the debt held by those municipalities as a result of their investments in coal and nuclear power plants in the 1970s. The debt, which amounts to $1.7 billion, has brought higher electrical rates to those municipalities.
Wholesale electrical rates that cities pay will go down about 20 percent immediately. During the next 10 years those rates are expected to increase gradually by a total of 29.5 percent, but city officials say those increases won’t be passed on to customers.
“… As I understand it, we were operating at a break-even point for our electrical system, actually almost negative in some areas, so that little spread that we’re going to be keeping allows us to go ahead and make the improvements that we need in our electrical distribution, switch gear, substations, that kind of thing, without having to raise rates because we have the increased revenue now,” Councilman Don Metzger said.
Rates were last raised in March 2014 by 3 percent. A 6.7 percent reduction in electrical rates means customers who had a $100 electrical charge this month would pay $93.70 for the same amount of usage after the new rate goes into effect.
The council also heard a request for the old City Hall and fire station building near the downtown plaza to be donated to the Robeson County Partnership for Children for use as a museum.
The council voted to approve the plan contingent upon a discussion with Preservation NC, which is working to sell the property. The city’s contract with Preservation NC automatically renewed on Aug. 1 and council members said they wanted to inquire about any recent offers to purchase the property before donating it.
The 7,520-square-foot building, built in 1917, is listed for sale on Preservation NC’s website for $39,000.
Councilman Leon Maynor, who is on the board of the Partnership for Children, said the organization has money set aside to develop the museum, but the deal would be contingent upon environmental testing and inspections.
Some council members said they had hoped the city would be able to generate money from the sale and operation of the building.
“How much longer are we willing to wait before we actually go do something ourselves?” Councilman John Cantey said.
In other business, the city council:
— Heard a presentation by Jason Epley, of Benchmark Planning, on the city’s proposed land use plan and scheduled a public hearing about the plan for the September City Council meeting.
— Agreed to pay Koonce, Noble and Associates $53,300 for the design and management of a sewer extension to the site of a Sanderson Farms hatchery being built on N.C. 41.
— Approved a $17,500 contract with Hartigan Management Enterprises Inc. to administer a $300,000 Golden LEAF Foundation grant that was awarded to partially fund the Sanderson Farms sewer extension.
— Voted to allocate $30,356 from the 911 Fund for server and Windows upgrades at the city’s Emergency Operations center. The update is expected to improve the center’s ability to locate where cell-phone calls originate.
— Approved plans for the city’s Urgent Repair Program for fiscal year 2015 so the program can begin using a $50,000 grant from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency.
— Heard a motion by City Councilman Erich Hackney to amend the city’s email policy to prohibit additional uses not related to city work, including notices of some sales and fundraisers and personal emails. The policy already prohibits solicitation of funds, political messages and harassing messages. The motion did not receive a second.
— Approved the following designations of Community Revitalization Funds: $1,300 to the Precinct 3 Family Fun Day; $400 to Godwin Heights Community Watch in Precinct 3; $431.68 to Precinct 5 Community Watch; $201 to Sandy Grove Church for a back-to-school event; $150 to McCormick Chapel for a back-to-school event; $1,100 for the Dixie Youth baseball; and $801 to Lumberton police Officer Joseph Frederick, who is running the New York City Marathon for the second time.
— Accepted a $37,720 Assistance to Firefighters Grant, which requires a 10 percent local match and will be used to buy 42 pairs of boots, 57 flashlights and four Rapid Intervention Firefighter Rescue Packs.
— Declared as surplus 35 Scott SCBA frames and 70 Scott SCBA bottles and authorized the Lumberton Fire Department permission to donate them to emergency organizations.
— Tabled a conditional-use permit request from Edgar Flores for a restaurant/bar at 3025 N. Roberts Ave. because the city has not been able to contact Flores.
— Voted to refurbish an AVGAS refueler tank at the Lumberton Regional Airport at a cost of $43,300.
— Authorized a release of liability agreement with the Department of Transportation required for safety and maintenance program funding.
— Authorized American Materials Company to crush about 12 tons of concrete debris at the city’s landfill for a fee of $109,889.
— Authorized the building inspector to demolish unsafe structures at 71 Canal St., 1406 W. Fifth St., 421 Columbia Ave., 501 Glendale Ave. and 502 Glendale Ave.
— Referred to the Planning Board a request from Milton Hall and David Stephenson to rezone 49 properties at Pinecrest Village to allow for duplexes.
— Reviewed informal bids for kitchen and restroom renovations at Bill Sapp Recreation Center.
— Renewed a contract between the Electrical Utilities Department and USIC Locating Services, which locates lines during utility work.
— Awarded a $256,938 bid for Wastewater Treatment Plant Generator Upgrades to Power Secure.
— Agreed to sell a surplus 1991 E-One Firetruck to the town of Pembroke for $45,000.
— Approved a final change order for the Phase 3 West Lumberton Sanitary Sewer Rehabilitation Project, deducting $4,500.20 from the contract amount.
— Authorized the city tax collector to collect property taxes for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
— Authorized July 2015 tax releases.
Sarah Willets can be reached at 910-816-1974 or on Twitter @Sarah_Willets.