Rock Hill budget

Rock Hill power customers may see 6 percent rate increase

adouglas@heraldonline.comApril 25, 2013 

  • Want to go?

    The Rock Hill City Council is scheduled to hold the first of two votes on the proposed budget at 5:30 p.m. June 10 at City Hall.

Rock Hill households could pay about $80 more a year for electricity starting in July if City Council members approve a staff budget proposal presented Thursday morning.

Piedmont Municipal Power Agency – Rock Hill’s energy provider – has increased its rate by 6.7 percent, meaning the city will pay an estimated $5.2 million more over the next year.

Staff members suggested to the council Thursday that the city could afford to cover less than 1 percent of the increase, leaving the remaining 6 percent to be paid for by customers through an electricity rate increase.

Council members routinely suggest changes to staff budget recommendations before voting on proposals in June.

Last year, PMPA raised its rate by 6.7 percent and the council voted to absorb most of the increase, leaving the average residential customer to pay about $4 more each month.

Under the staff’s proposal this year, residential customers would pay an average of $6.59 more per month.

The monthly impact on commercial, manufacturing and industrial customers will vary, said Rock Hill Budget Director Steven Gibson.

All customers in the city, including businesses and manufacturing companies, and those outside of the city using Rock Hill power will pay more for electricity if city leaders choose to pass on any of PMPA’s rate hike.

Rock Hill’s rates are lower than many other cities’, including Columbia and Charleston, according to staff calculations presented Thursday.

Duke Energy has announced that it wants to increase its residential rate for electricity by 16 percent.

If Duke’s rate hike is approved by state leaders and the Rock Hill City Council approves city utility customers paying 6 percent more for electricity, Duke and Rock Hill customers will pay nearly the same rates.

As a PMPA customer, Rock Hill has paid more than $166 million in rate increases over the past 20 years to avoid shifting the entire burden to customers.

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, Rock Hill “ate” most of the cost increases without asking customers to pay more, said Deputy City Manager Jimmy Bagley.

City staff found ways to cut costs and improve operations to save money, he said.

Now, Bagley said, “there’s nowhere else to squeeze.”

On Thursday, staff members proposed not increasing property taxes or water or sewer utility rates. The city hasn’t raised property tax since 2006, when residents paid more to cover the cost of new public safety initiatives.

In 2011, the property tax rate decreased slightly, canceling out about half of the increase five years before.

Pay raises may be cut

The city’s 900 employees may forego part of their performance-based pay increases to help address a $1.5 million budget shortfall caused by higher than expected health insurance claims last year.

Over the past three years, rising hospital care costs, prescription drug charges and subsidies paid for early retirees’ insurance claims have exceeded expectations.

Staff members suggested Thursday that the city close half of the gap – about $750,000 – by using money saved by reducing employee pay increases from 3 percent to 1.5 percent.

The other half of the $1.5 million shortfall could be recovered next year by raising employee premiums, applying a $10 “tobacco surcharge” to employees who smoke and increasing the out-of-pocket premium expense for early retirees by about $32 per month.

Employees started paying 20 percent higher premiums on Jan. 1 this year.

If the council approves the budget plan presented Thursday, Rock Hill employees will not be able to extend health coverage to dependants after they turn 26 years old.

Currently, employees’ dependants are covered to the end of the year in which they turn 26. The change in dependant coverage would save about $32,000, staff members said.

Public safety push

Rock Hill Police Chief Chris Watts wants to hire three new officers by October for the department’s Street Crimes Unit and start a “community service officer initiative,” he said Thursday.

The new employees, additional police vehicles and equipment will cost the city $363,482 every year after 2013.

The new program would enable the police department to follow up on problems mentioned during neighborhood meetings and within the business community, Watts said.

The three community service officers also would focus on high-crime areas in Rock Hill identified by statistical information gathered through the department’s Comstat software.

Other proposed changes in the department include officers working 12-hour shifts instead of 10-hour shifts and shrinking police zones to create nine “beats” – up from the current six.

With plans to expand Rock Hill’s Law Center and add a second courtroom, another court security officer may be needed, city leaders said Thursday.

The additional officer would cost the city $55,000.

Council members may decide to save money by rotating on-duty patrol officers to supervise court or by hiring a lower-classification employee, according to the budget proposal.

Rock Hill has intentionally hired more public safety workers than non-public safety employees over the past 21 years, city leaders said.

The number of non-public safety employees in the city has shrunk by about 16 percent since 1991, while Rock Hill’s population has increased by about 59 percent in the same time period.

Fines and fire inspector

Business owners who fail to bring their buildings up to code after two inspections could face $250 fines if the council approves the budget proposal in June. City leaders expect that the new fine would net about $55,000 annually.

Money gained from fines would pay for an additional fire code inspector Rock Hill needs, said Fire Chief Mike Blackmon.

Failure to comply with fire code is a safety issue, he said.

Inspectors routinely find violations such as overloading outlets with drop cords, blocked exit doors and improperly stored chemicals, Blackmon said.

Last year, 320 commercial properties did not correct fire code problems after their first annual inspection.

Nearly half of those businesses required follow-up visits.

Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

The Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service