LUMBERTON — The Lumberton City Council, with two members voting against, on Monday night raised electric utility rates in the city by 3 percent.
The increase will appear on utility bills generated on or after April 1. The city provides power to about 10,000 customers.
Two people voiced concern about the already high rates during a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting.
“When your light bill is higher than your rent, something is wrong somewhere,” Loretta Locklear said.
Chris Howard Jr. called the increase “a quick resolution on the backs of citizens.”
“Do we wish to be enslaved by higher rates all over again?” Howard said.
Lumberton utility customers currently pay 12.87 cents per kilowatt-hour, with a slight increase in the rate for higher usage. The national average for utility rates is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Councilman John Cantey, who represents Precinct 5, voted against the hike when it was brought before the Council Policy Committee. Councilman John Robinson, who represents Precinct 2, added his opposing vote on Monday.
“After promising the citizens that I wouldn’t do that, I had to keep my word,” Robinson said after the meeting. “They voted for me to show me their support and I had to let them know that they still had me in their corner.”
Precinct 1 Councilman Don Metzger reiterated what members have said before — that they have no option but to raise the rates.
“The bottom line is that we are not collecting enough money in electricity revenues to pay for the wholesale cost of the electricity we buy and the maintenance of the system … we’ve gone as long as we can trying to be considerate of people who are on restricted incomes. If we could not do it at this time, we wouldn’t do it, but we don’t have a choice,” he said, noting rates haven’t gone up in almost seven years.
Councilman Erich Hackney said he’s hopeful a deal will be made between Duke Energy Progress and ElectriCities for the sale of ownership of four power plants that serve 32 towns, including Lumberton, but that banking on that agreement is “like predicting the next earthquake.” The deal, if reached, could result in lower utility rates.
The council was expected to endorse those negotiations at the meeting but struck that item from the agenda. The endorsement would allow a representative from ElectriCities to update the council on the talks during a closed session at the council’s planning conference on March 26.
Following public hearings on the projects, the council approved a rezoning request for a five-story Hampton Inn on Farmbrook Drive that would be built near the existing Hampton Inn, which would remain in business.
The council also approved a conditional-use permit for a barber school at 418 N. Chestnut St.
Anthony Spence said his school would bring about 25 students to the downtown area in the morning and again at night.
“We’re coming to Lumberton strictly to educate and train. We’re here for the youth,” he said.
Cantey put forth a motion accepting Spence’s application with the condition that he ask all students and staff to park in the lot of the old BB&T nearby.
The council also presented Pride in Lumberton awards to Shane Richardson, the new head football coach at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke; his wife, Jenna; and Logan Cameron, who was recently elected Junior Beta Club vice president for the state.
“I need your autograph, it looks like you might be going places,” Councilman Burnis Wilkins said to the seventh-grader.
Retiring Capt. Leroy Hardin was presented with a plaque and helmet for his 23 years as a firefighter.
In other business, the council:
— Adopted an ordinance that sets a schedule for the city to regulate electronic gaming establishments if they become fully legal. The ordinance lays out proposed zoning measures — like restricting location and hours of operation — for such establishments after a citywide moratorium expires in June. The council could still extend the moratorium.
— Adopted an ordinance supporting a county dumping ordinance that prohibits taking waste out of Robeson County. The ordinance makes an exception for recycling, and is intended to keep the county from losing out on tipping fees.
— Designated $500 of Community Revitalization Funds for handicap rails at 1012 E. Ninth St. and $300 to W.H. Knuckles Elementary School to repair a security camera.
— Approved a two-year odor-control service contract with NRP Group at a rate of $1,200 a month. The company will treat a wastewater lift station located on Harrill Road near Wesley Pines.
— Approved a request from the Electric Utilities Department to purchase a tree bucket truck for $172,545. All but $2,545 was included in the capital budget. That amount will come from the city’s contingency fund.
— Awarded a bid for wastewater treatment plant repairs to Heavenly Creations. The repairs will cost $48,470, all but $3,47o of which was included in the capital budget. That amount will come from the city’s Water and Sewer Fund.
— Voted to extend Lumberton’s contract with accounting firm Collins, Kemp and Patterson to do the city’s audits.
— Approved a request from Southeastern Health that it be able to place a sign at 395 W. 27th St.
— Voted to accept 2014 tax releases.