Last updated: July 18. 2013 11:01PM - 104 Views
Cris Ritchie

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HAZARD – People who opt to pay their power bill at City Hall may not have that option after September if city officials can’t find a way to even out the city’s cost in staffing the office.

City Manager Carlos Combs informed the city commission on Monday that the city is losing approximately $20,000 annually by providing one full time and one part time employee to accept monthly payments for American Electric Power (AEP) customers at City Hall.

The city has provided the office space at City Hall for several years and remains a service that officials want to continue, Combs said, as it provides convenience for people to pay their bill. He noted that even people from other counties who work in Hazard or regularly visit the city also utilize this service.

But at the same time, the city is simply not reimbursed enough to justify the expense. At present, AEP pays 30 cents per transaction.

“It totals out to be about half of what we need to break even,” he said.

While talking with AEP officials last week, Combs explained that the company did propose to raise the city’s reimbursement to 50 cents, but the city would still lose money under that arrangement. The company also noted that the city could levy an additional $1 charge, of which the city could keep 70 cents on top of the 30 cents AEP already pays and not only break even, but begin to make money as well.

Another option would be to close the office at City Hall, at which time AEP could seek another entity to provide office space and accept payments.

Ultimately, the city shouldn’t be out to make money by offering this service, Combs said, but he feels the city also shouldn’t be losing money.

“I recommend whatever we do, to break even or to close it down,” he said.

Commissioner Jimmy Lindon inquired as to the possibility of charging AEP customers an additional $1 to make their payments at City Hall. He said he also believed the city should not lose money, and could certainly use the $20,000 being lost by staffing the office each year.

But there was also definite opposition to any additional charges.

“In effect, we’re raising their electric bill” if the commission decides to levy the charge, noted Commissioner Fitz Gilbert, who added that he didn’t want to raise anyone’s bill.

“My personal opinion is that it’s un-American to charge someone to pay a bill,” added Assistant City Manager Paul Townes.

Lindon suggested that the commission table the issue of keeping the office open or closing it until the September meeting, and allow Combs time to contact AEP again and determine whether or not an agreement can be reached that would help the city break even on the costs of staffing the office.

Commissioner Lou Ella Farler moved to table the issue, with a second from Lindon before the motion passed.

Combs reiterated after the meeting that the city does not want to discontinue the service as he believes it is a help to the public, but if the commission votes to close the office it would likely mean the elimination of a part time position at City Hall.

In other business, the commission approved a resolution accepting a new lessee for space at the Hal Rogers Forum near Hazard High School.

In years past the office was leased by the Rural Law Enforcement Technology Center, though a recent move left the space open. Summit Church currently holds space, but about seven offices remain empty. Combs noted that KVC Behavioral Healthcare approached city officials about leasing the space for two years, which he added would be a benefit to the city and give officials additional revenue to help pay down the remaining debt on the building, as well as make any repairs that may need to be made.

The commission also heard the monthly report from Police Chief Minor Allen, whose department received 1,396 total calls for service during the month of July, including 65 automobile accidents. Officers at the department also worked a total of 53 cases and filed 311 total charges, 48 of which were drug related. Twenty-eight of the cases opened in July involved felony crimes.

The commission also approved a resolution to retain Hollon and Collins, the law firm of City Manager Paul Collins, to complete any necessary legal work on a project to extend sewer lines to the new East Perry Elementary currently under construction on Highway 80. Combs noted that if any legal services are needed, the cost will be covered by the Department for Local Government in Frankfort.

Finally, Hazard Fire Chief Sam Stacy presented his monthly report. The Hazard Fire Department responded to 52 calls in July, including 40 fire calls. The department also used 35,000 gallons of water during the month.

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