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City council passes electric rate increase

Posted: November 27, 2013 4:15 p.m.
Updated: November 29, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Camden City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to increase electric utility rates by 6 percent starting with the first billing cycle in January 2014. The increase is necessary, City Manager Mel Pearson said during council’s Tuesday meetings, because of an expected 12.9 percent increase in the cost of purchasing power from Duke Energy Progress (DEP).

Council recently approved a new contract with DEP that uses a variable rate formula. Pearson said the 6 percent hike in January is likely the first of two in 2014.

“During the first six months of this new contract, we’ll have to monitor very closely the record keeping necessary to understand how the new calculations -- the formula-based rate we’ve never had to deal with before -- and we’ll have to understand that as we get closer to the new fiscal year, July1 (2014),” Pearson said. “It may very well be necessary to have another rate increase with the new budget. But we don’t know that now; we are comfortable in taking a wait-and-see and applying 6 percent at this point in time.”

The afternoon discussion focused on the city’s position compared with other local providers. Even with the rate increase, the city will continue to offer the second-lowest rates in the county, only bested by DEP itself.

The city last increased electric rates 30 months ago, in July 2011 by 3 percent. Pearson said that even with the increase, the city will likely retain its position as the seventh-least expensive provider among 21 municipalities that sell electricity, placing it in the “middle of the pack.” Greenwood offers what appears to be the lowest rate among such cities, at $88.05 per 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh), while Westminster offers seeming the highest rate at $147.58 per 1,000 kWh.

Camden’s current rate is $112.87 per 1,000 kWh. The 6 percent increase would be equal to an approximately $7 increase to $119.60. That is just below Black River Electric Cooperative’s $120 per 1,000 kWh hour rate, but “significantly below,” as Pearson put it, the per 1,000 kWh rates offered by Lynches River Electric Cooperative ($124.50), Fairfield Electric Cooperative ($127.73) and SCE&G (144.75).

Answering a question from Councilman Willard Polk, Pearson said the city knew it would experience a wholesale power cost increase when it entered into negotiations with DEP.

“We knew exactly what they were going to do. This comparison is based on the results of our negotiations and they were the least cost,” Pearson said.

Pearson repeated much of the same information during council’s regular meeting later that evening prior to the unanimous vote to implement the increase. Pearson said again that DEP’s bid was the best choice for Camden.

“It is a seven-year contract. Those costs were lower than any of the other proposals,” he said. “We reviewed the proposals for a period of 10 and up to 15 years. We felt like maybe market changes in the future, nearer (to) inside of 10 years, so we were comfortable going with a seven-year contract. Also, the rates that were quoted by Duke are not just the lowest, but lower than any of the other proposals for the first six-year period of this contract.”

Pearson also cited the city’s long-term relationship with Duke and its predecessor companies and its fuel mix as other reasons to choose DEP. He said that while the increase is significant -- and that the city doesn’t like having to raise the electric rate -- it is necessary.

Mayor Tony Scully acknowledged that some people reacted negatively to news council was considering the rate increase.

“For those who have not been here for the various discussions at council meetings … we’re impressed with how hard you and staff have worked to keep these rate increases as low as possible,” Scully said.

Polk, too, said he heard concerns from the public, but agreed residents could have faced even higher rate increases if council had chosen another wholesale provider.

“We could have decided not to raise (our) rates, but then that would have eaten in to the utility fund’s net worth,” Polk said, something he said would have made maintaining and upgrading the electric utility system more difficult.

Also during the work session, Camden Archives and Museum Director Kathryn Richardson presented council with a rundown on remaining 2013 as well as 2014 events at the archives. “Camden in the Civil War: The Home Front” continues through Jan. 11, 2014, in the Whitely Room, Richardson said. On the last day of the exhibit, the Carolina Ladies Aid society will be in Civil War period costumes to reenact the home front era at the archives from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Children’s activities will be included. The event is free and open to the public.

Richardson noted that a large scale replica of the Confederate submarine CSS H.L. Hunley will return to the archives Dec. 13 and 14. Also appearing that day will be members of Camp No. 143 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. They, too, will be in period costume and set up a Civil War era encampment on the archives grounds. The Hunley replica will be on display from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 13 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 14.

Following the home front exhibit, the Whitely Room will be transformed into an exhibit space for “Robert Mills’ South Carolina.” She said the exhibit will highlight Mills’ work in Camden; his atlas of South Carolina; and his statewide and national influence in architecture, engineering and transportation. Included with the presentation will be a traveling exhibit from the S.C. State Museum, “Designs for Democracy” which will appear at the archives from April through mid-June.

The archives will also be the home base for the 2014 meeting of the S.C. Federation of Museums, March 12-14.

“I’m planning events for all over town so they can they can really see what we have here,” Richardson said.

For example, she said there will be receptions at places like the National Steeplechase Museum and that lunch would be served at different locations. Richardson said between 85 to 100 members of the federation attend the annual meeting.

“They will be eating here and staying hotels and shopping -- they can’t wait to go shopping downtown,” she said.

The Whitely Room exhibit following the one on Mills will be “In the Heart of the Pines: Camden During the Hotel Era, 1884-1941.”

Richardson also reported that Camden Police Chief Joe Floyd brought special visitors to the archives Nov. 22 to see the Ross Beard gun collection and to meet Beard himself. The visitors included U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge for South Carolina Dave Thomas and two of his assistant special agents, Ann Colbert and Douglas Hemminghaus.

In conjunction with that news, Richardson said several new two-sided exhibit cases will be placed in the center of the Museum Wing. One side of the cases will be used to help exhibit more items from the Beard collection, she said.

Among other items during the work session:

• Pearson announced that council will meet for its strategic planning session on Jan. 30.

• Pearson presented a list of Maxway Property Development Committee recommendations. The list included council members Walter Long and Alfred Mae Drakeford along with residents Jodie Munnerlyn, Jonathan Fike, Gail Carter and Robert Ariail. The committee will receive staff support from Camden Economic Development Director Wade Luther and City Planner Shawn Putnam. Council will vote to form the committee at a later date and could named different people to the committee.

• Council agreed to Pearson’s request to use $5,000 from the city’s project contingency fund to cover additional façade grant requests. He said he did not want to “interrupt the program.”

• Answering a question from Drakeford during other business, Pearson said council would likely receive a list of streets to be paved in March. Mayor Scully said he wanted to make sure the public understood that some paving projects have to wait so that they can be done in conjunction with sewer and other underground upgrades. Pearson said that with the new wastewater treatment plant under construction, the city must also make sure that the “dust settles from that” and servicing debt associated with the project. After that, he said, the city will be able to look at sewer/water rehabilitation projects.

• Council agreed to a request from Councilwoman Laurie Parks to have Pearson set up joint quarterly meetings with Kershaw County Council. Scully said he had spoken with County Council Chairman Gene Wise, who he said thought it was a “great idea.” Pearson said the last such meeting was in either 2007 or 2008 regarding the possibility of regional wastewater treatment service.

• Council entered executive session to discuss a contractual matter and a personnel matter. No action was taken when members returned to open session.

In addition to approving the electric rate hike during the regular meeting, council also approved annexing a large number of rights of way and unanimously approved two façade grant applications. One, for Mac’s Vac, is for $1,294 with a city match of $647; the other was for the Fred Myers Office Building for the same amount of money and match.

Council will next on Dec. 10, its only meeting of the month. The work session that day will be wholly devoted to a presentation by Arnett Muldrow on its marketing, tourism and branding work for the city of Camden.

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