'Cannot bring myself to vote yes’: Council members concerned by MLGW’s proposed rate hikes

MLGW CEO says rate increases would update outdated infrastructure

'Cannot bring myself to vote yes’: Commissioners concerned by MLGW’s proposed rate hikes

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Leaders at MLGW will spend the next two weeks trying to convince Memphis City Council members to sign off on rate increases.

The utility’s been pushing a rate hike for months to fund a number of improvements across gas, electric, and water divisions.

Areas outside of the city make up more than a quarter of MLGW's customers.

The county currently doesn't have any representation on the MLGW board, so the fate of county residents' bills and level of service lies with city council members

“In my district we are having frequent outages that are happening in the City of Germantown quite often,” said Shelby County Commission Vice Chair Mark Billingsley.

Billingsley said nobody wants to pay more for power, but in this case, MLGW customers may not be able to wait much longer.

“The reality is the infrastructure is truly at its capacity,” Billingsley said.

The slate of water, gas, and electric rate increases appeared to all be on pace to fail at Tuesday night’s meeting before the council decided to hold a final vote in two weeks.

County Commission Chairman Van Turner was in the council chambers Tuesday to watch but stayed out of taking a side in the debate Wednesday.

“They ultimately get the decision and so we can leave it to them,” Turner said.

Concerns for council members centered on the financial impact on families and the possibility that down the road, MLGW could get power from a cheaper source than TVA.

“I cannot bring myself to vote yes today,” said council member Sherman Greer.

“I cannot support making the ratepayers pay for this when there could possibly be other options,” said council member J. Ford Canale.

MLGW officials say rate increases are needed for a variety of system improvements, most notably on the aging electric grid.

If funded, a five-year $342 million modernization plan would cut customer outage minutes in half in a city that struggles with frequent power loss during summer thunderstorms.

Total cost for all three increases would range from $16 to $18 more a month by the end of five years.

“I do believe that our citizens and customers in particular really want to see better service,” said MLGW President and CEO J.T. Young.

The city’s municipal election is in October. It’s possible council members don’t want to raise rates in an election year.

“In an election year, I would think that I’d want to be known as someone who championed improved services for my constituents,” Young said.

The rates must be set so the utility's budget can be approved by that deadline, which is February 15. The next council meeting is February 12.

A plan previously approved in committee would hold off any rate increases until 2020, but council members did not appear ready to move forward with that.

Copyright 2019 WMC. All rights reserved.