What’s your PWC story? On May 26, Fayetteville City Manager Ted Voorhees wants to host a public hearing on PWC and HB 392. Really? I hope the good citizens of Fayetteville take this opportunity to show up in mass to shout out support for of our Hometown Utility. After all, with more than a century of dedication, experience and expertise, our PWC has managed to set the standard in efficient operations, responsible management and community commitment. Not an easy task for a public utility.
So, what’s your PWC story? Low rates and dependable service are unquestioned. Come prepared to share your personal PWC experience with Voorhees and the city council. Let’s put a face on this community asset and let them know what PWC means to this community by sharing your story. Did PWC staff unselfishly risk their lives during a storm to restore power to your home or business? Did they stop to assist you as a stranded motorist or reported something or someone suspicious looking in your neighborhood? Maybe they stopped to fix your grandmother’s flat tire or assisted you with that dead battery. Perhaps they built a wheelchair ramp for a disabled veteran, fed a homeless person or patched a leaky roof during United Way’s Days of Caring. Did our PWC educate you and your children on how to conserve energy, protect and preserve our environment and our natural resources? Maybe they enhanced your cultural awareness by underwriting programs that elevate Fayetteville’s quality of life. PWC does all these things and much, much more every day, while maintaining and managing a company that is the envy of the state. Sure, some city leaders will argue that those things are not the job of the utility. My response is simple, what do they know?
Community involvement is the successful business model used by for profit utilities and successful businesses. PWC’s proven track record shows it also works for public utilities. It seems pointless for the paid city staff to hold a public hearing on something that they cannot impact or have zero authority over, like the work of the legislature, a topic that they and the community have no say or authority over. It begs the question, why are they holding the public hearing? Is the real purpose to belittle the PWC commissioners or attack PWC management and besmirch the reputation of one of this city’s most successful ventures? Our community deserves better and so do the dedicated employees of PWC.
Since the battle lines between the city and PWC were drawn, a lot of words have been written and spoken, some true, so not so much. In order to ensure our residents know the truth, below is a primer of sorts on HB 392. While our city has a talented and competent communications staff, the information going out about PWC has been a little confusing leaving some elected city leaders and members of the community confused. Knowing the facts will confirm what you already know: Our PWC Commissioners, management, employees and legislative delegation have our best interest at heart.
PWC is a publicly owned utility, and as such, does not pay taxes to the city.
A utility is not authorized to transfer any money until all “appropriations in the fund equal or exceed the amount that will be required during the fiscal year, as shown by the budget ordinance, to meet operating expenses, capital outlay and debt service on outstanding utility or enterprise bonds or notes,” i.e. until the utility has what it needs to operate and maintain its systems, no money can be taken out of it.
PWC, as a publicly owned utility, has the joint responsibility, first to the ratepayers to keep utility rates as low as possible. Second, to transfer funds to the owning organization to offset the impact of the utility not paying taxes. The intent is not to for the public utility to underwrite the city’s budget, but rather contribute as all businesses do. Any transfers that requires a utility rate increase should be reduced so there is no adverse impact on ratepayers.
The average transfer for public utilities in the southeast region of the United States is approximately 7.8 percent. PWC’s current rate is 5.2 percent which does not take into account other funds paid in support of the city by PWC (see below), which puts PWC well above the national average.
Need to know information about HB 392
HB 392 ends the responsibility for the city to pay its $70 million portion of the Big Bang annexation costs. PWC is responsible for funding the whole expansion. With that in mind, PWC transfer to the city should go back to what it was before annexation, which was about $9 million per year.
In addition to its transfer rate, PWC will continue to pay 100 percent of the cost of city street lights, which is an additional $3.2 million bringing the utility’s contribution to city coffers well above the 7.8 percent average at $12 million.
PWC leadership has cautioned that an increase in transfer rate will mean higher rates for the ratepayers, which contradicts the public utility’s first responsibility of keeping rates as possible. PWC’s residential rate is 4.49 percent less than the North Carolina average and 12.29 percent less than the national average. For industrial users, PWC is 3.27 percent less than the state average and 6.9 percent less than the national average, according to Electric City.
This is fairly straightforward. The numbers do not lie, the way people manipulate them do. It is disconcerting that our city staff cannot and will not grasp these elementary concepts, and continue to lead newbie council members down the rabbit hole. If our city manager and elected city officials cannot grasp these concepts, how can they be trusted to run the PWC better than highly successful staff and appointed commission that has made the utility so successful? They can’t. One does not covet what is not of value, and the city staff has coveted PWC for quite a while.
PWC is focused on the long-term success of our community, while others are focused on their own personal, short-term agendas.
It is questionable whether or not the public hearing will occur, as HB 392 may have very well passed through the legislature with the full support of legislative delegation. But if it does, come out and have your say. If you read and understood this editorial, then you will know more about the issue than some city leaders.
Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.