LUMBERTON — City officials say a 6.7 percent electrical rate reduction won’t only benefit residents’ bank accounts, but also the city’s.
“If it’s good for the customers, it’s good for the city,” said Mayor Raymond Pennington.
The City Council approved the rate reduction on Monday, following a hearing that included no comments from the public.
The city was able to lower rates after Duke Energy purchased 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 should wipe out a significant portion of debt that has burdened member municipalities.
As a result of the purchase, wholesale rates the city pays for electricity will go down immediately by 19 to 20 percent. However, during the next five years, wholesale rates will go up by 12.1 percent, and by 2025 the increase will total 29.5 percent. City officials say increases during the first five years won’t be passed on to customers.
City Manager Wayne Horne said it’s the only rate reduction he could recall. The city last raised rates by 3 percent in March 2014. The reduction will be effective on usage billed on or after Sept. 1.
Councilman John Cantey says he is approached by residents daily who are struggling to pay their electrical bills. The reduction, he says, “works out for everybody.”
“They can rest assured over the next five years no matter if Duke raises their costs we’re not going to pass it off on customers,” Cantey said.
Cantey said council members had hoped to pass on more savings to customers, but that “the city has to be run like a business.” He said he preferred to adopt a more modest decrease now, rather than dramatically reduce rates and have to raise them again soon.
The added revenue will help the city pad its Electrical Fund. Horne said repairing street lights, replacing old utility poles and upgrading circuits and wires to maximize efficiency will also be a priority.
Following two public hearings, the council approved conditional-use permit requests from Adelio Cruz, one for a pizzeria at 3541 Lackey St. and one for a restaurant and banquet facility that serves alcohol at 3551 Lackey St.
The pizzeria will be allowed to operate daily from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and the restaurant daily from 10 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.
Councilman Erich Hackney told Cruz that a court-ordered injunction against clubs at 3551 Lackey St. would not apply to his business. The council voted to impose some restrictions from the court judgment on the business to prevent public safety issues that have occurred at clubs previously located in the shopping center.
Cruz and the property owners will have to comply with ABC regulations; give immediate access to law enforcement and fire personnel; and cooperate with prosecutions of anyone arrested at the business. In addition, the property owners will have to re-apply for a conditional-use permit if they want to change the floor plan of the building.
In other business, the council:
— Recognized two retiring employees, Michael Sessoms, a water plant operator retiring after 30 years, and Kenneth Locklear, the fire marshal who is retiring after 26 years.
— Heard from by Katie Fountain about new initiatives at the Robeson County Public Library, including a $50,000 grant it has received to broaden services to the Hispanic community.
— Heard from Mark Jones, coach of a Lumberton Youth Baseball Association team that was recently given a Sportsmanship Award.
— Approved environmental testing at the old City Hall/fire station on the downtown plaza. The Robeson County Partnership for Children has expressed interest in acquiring the building for a children’s museum.
— Held a public hearing to close out a $600,000 Catalyst Grant that was used toward the construction of the Lumberton Christian Care Center, which is expected to be complete in September.
— Approved a request to rezone Lumberton Mobile Home park, which was condemned earlier this year, for commercial use.
— Approved a request from Amar Mustfa to rezone property at 2302 Elizabethtown Road to allow for a car dealership.
— Agreed to pay Koonce, Noble and Associates $53,300 for design and management of a sewer extension to the 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.
— 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.
— 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.
— Voted to refurbish a refueler tank at the Lumberton Regional Airport at a cost of $43,300.
— Authorized the release of a 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.