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Utilities Billing & Payment

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An Explanation for Cherryville Citizens

By Jeff Cash, City Manager 

September 21, 2020


Our city council, mayor, and I get a lot of questions from our fellow citizens about their utility bills.  We understand very well why our neighbors are often so concerned.  A high utility bill can be a real strain on individual and family budgets.

When we’re asked about bills, and that happens a lot, we’re glad to try to explain what goes into a bill.  There are a lot of factors and it can sometimes be very complicated.  And, sometimes, it’s hard, in brief conversations, to explain just what’s going on.  But, we know it’s our solemn responsibility to our fellow citizens to keep them informed.  We know that understanding the “why” behind a bill doesn’t make the bill any easier to pay but we know citizens have a right to a full explanation.
 

I might add regarding transparency that our books are audited annually and they are open to the public.  We’re committed to the principle of transparency.
 

So, to help explain some of what citizens need to know, I want to briefly discuss the answers to these common questions. I think you’ll see as you read this that we hear concerns and are taking whatever steps wherever we can to help citizens.
 

  • I hear that Cherryville is part of ElectriCities.  What is that?

  • Some of my neighbors refer to this bill as just a “power bill” but I see it’s actually a “utility bill.”What city services are paid on my utility bill?

  • Why is my bill for July so high?

  • How do our electric rates compare with other cities?

  • How I can I lower the power part of my bill?

  • What goes into the water portion of my bill?


Cherryville is part of ElectriCities – a cooperative of cities overseeing our public power agency that owns part of the Catawba Nuclear Station Power plant
 

ElectriCities NC is a nonprofit organization whose board oversees two municipal power agencies in NC.  Here in western NC, the power agency serving Cherryville and 18 other cities is NCMPA1 -- the NC Municipal Power Agency Number 1.  NCMPA1 owns 75% ownership of the Catawba Nuclear Station Unit 2, located in York, SC.  Beside Cherryville, the cities in NCMPA1 include the nearby cities of Shelby, Lincolnton, Gastonia, Morganton, Granite Falls, Landis, and Newton.  Other member cities include: Statesville, High Point, Lexington, Cornelius, Huntersville, Albemarle, Pineville, and Monroe. 
 

Our Cherryville City Council voted in July 1978 to join the cooperative and took on the original debt to purchase ownership in about 1.6% of the nuclear plant.  It’s important to note that, at that time of this original agreement, our city leaders projected our power growth to be between 14 to 18% yearly.  So, they thought the per capita burden for the debt payment would very rapidly lessen and make electricity cheap for each individual customer.  However, when our community lost the mills – the most significant one being Travis Knits – our actual citywide power growth has been in the low single digits; therefore, our shared costs of repaying the debt has lessened very little.  Also, of note is that, shortly after our council joined the NCMPA1, the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island caused the price to generate nuclear power to escalate.

Our rates that we owe ElectriCities are set by their board after taking into account: 1) the current expense to generate electricity, 2) how much of the plant a particular city owns, and 3) how much of the city’s purchase debt the city has yet to pay through the cooperative.
 

Cherryville still owes about $12.5 million on the purchase of our portion of the plant.  Our debt is to be paid off in 2031.  (The NCMPA1 board voted a few years ago to refinance the collective debt held by the cities by extending the repayment period.)  Once the debt is paid off, we, and all NCMPA1 communities, will see a very significant drop in our electrical rates since we will then own - free and clear -- part of the nuclear plant that generates our electricity. 

Cherryville Utility Bills include water, sewer, trash pick-up, and sanitation – in addition to power.
 

Many people don’t realize that their monthly bill includes utilities of all types.  (Many cities send multiple, separate bills. Ranlo, for example, sends five each month.)  So, in comparing electricity rates or water rates with others, it’s important to compare “apples to apples.”  In response to citizens’ concerns, we’re exploring how we can better format our bills to make them easier for citizens to see what different services cost.  We’ve found some great examples which we may copy.
 

July Bills are Often High
 

July bills are often high -- for three reasons.
 

First, because of the July 4th holiday, our meter reading is often disrupted and results in a longer billing cycle. This year, the cycle was a 33-day period. In response to citizens’ concerns, we’re looking at ways to standardize the billing into regular, shorter cycles.

Second, as is nearly always the case, July was a very hot month. This year, we had 19 days in July over 90 degrees and 11 days over 85 degrees. When the weather is hot, air conditioners must run significantly longer to achieve the same cool temperature inside an office or house.

Third, as was the case through most of this July, high humidity causes air conditioners to run much longer. Most homeowners don’t realize this, but professionals say that higher humidity is tougher on air conditioners than are hot temperatures. This year we had both situations -- with an average daily humidity of 91 percent.

Comparing electric rates across cities

Here’s how we compare with other cities:

The facility charge handles our administrative overhead.  The rate charge is set by the city council and covers what we pay to ElectriCities and for our operations and maintenance to our system.
 

Citizens should be aware that we are always looking at our rates and working to be sure they are fair.  In 2019,  we lowered the rate charge by 2% and we have recently asked Southeastern Consulting to look at our rates and make recommendations to us. In 2020 they remained neutral,  This year, 2021, we are again reducing the rate charge by 5%   
 

Lowering electric usage is possible.
 

Citizens have seen very significant drops in their electrical usage by many means.  The city can help you identify what steps you can take.  An energy audit is available.  Just call city hall.  Some of the steps one can take include these:

 

  • Setting thermostats lower or higher.

  • Setting water heater temperatures lower.

  • Checking the seal of doors and windows.

  • Washing clothes or dishes less frequently.

  • Adding additional blown-in insulation.(One realtor in town has said this is always so cost effective that many rental owners do this routinely.)

  • Investing in new air conditioning or other energy efficient equipment.(Local electricians and heating/cooling contractors have told us this is very effective.)

  • Redesigning the placement of ducts and vents.(One neighbor saw a 50% decrease in power consumption from doing this.)


Citizens who want to see a printout of their energy usage by the hour, day, or month can do so by calling the city.  This is available to citizens because electric usage is monitored by computer with accurate electronic, digital readings instead of the old style analog meters that had to be read by a meter reader.
 

What goes into our water bill?
 

Our facility charge for water is $17.00 (up from $16.00 last year) and our rate is $6.50 per 1,000 gallons (up from $5.86 last year).  Currently, only about 60% of residents have their water read by computer.  Soon that number will be 100%.

Payment Information

Each month you will receive a bill which will detail your utility usage and the amount due to the city. The bill also will include all applicable taxes. Bills are past due if not paid by the due date on the bill. Also on the bill are the phone number and address of the city. If you have a question about your bill, please call us. You may pay your bill by mail, bring it to the city utility office or online by clicking here.

 

We do not want a situation to arise that would disrupt your utility service. It is always more favorable to contact a Municipal utility employee prior to disconnection rather that to make arrangements after service is involuntarily interrupted. Payment options may be available prior to disconnection, which will save the customer from additional higher deposit amounts and additional fees.
 

How Rates Are Set

The city's rates are set by its local governing body and are designed to be fair and nondiscriminatory. Setting rates locally offers rate regulation that is responsive to the customers of our system. We can provide you with a rate schedule at your request.

 

New and potential business customers are encouraged to provide the city utility department with the load characteristics of their facility. The city may require special conditions and contracts for electric service based upon necessary investment in special equipment.
 

About Your Meter

We read your meters each month to measure the amount of each service you use. Your meters will be read by city utility employees according to the city's schedule. Reading dates will vary slightly from month-to-month due to weekends, holidays, weather conditions and other factors. It is important that the meter reader have access to your meter to get an accurate reading. Should you suspect there is a problem with your electric meter, the city will test the meter free of charge, once in a twelve-month period. If the meter test shows the meter to be inaccurate, adjustments may be made. Please remember that tampering with a meter can be dangerous and is illegal. Call us if you have a metering concern.