Editor: I read a letter regarding New Bern’s utility department (Sun-Journal, June 15) with keen interest.
The letter reminded me of those written by Billy Smith a few years ago. Smith, an avid preservationist and lover of New Bern, felt the city’s alder men and women’s ability to do anything right ranked below John Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs committee.
May I offer a response to the points raised in the recent letter.
The reward the city provides utility users who pay on time is negative — that is the shiny truck does NOT show up to shut off your meter — as it does for non-payment.
But the idea of a positive reward, as mentioned, intrigues me. More in a moment.
If bills are not paid utilities are still shut off. What was recently re-negotiated is the amount of deposit to have the power turned back on, how that deposit can be paid, and how long the city will hold that deposit before returning it.
(May I suggest that the city pay interest on these held deposits, which amount to an interest-free loan to the city.)
As the letter mentions, utility bills which remain unpaid and uncollectible are eventually written off. But I seen to remembers (then-) Mayor (Lee) Bettis saying at one time that these written-off accounts in any one year amounted to less than 1 percent of total utility revenues, hardly a heavy burden.
And city utility rates — the amount paid per kilowatt-hour — are higher than those paid by customers of Duke Energy. The city has long used utility revenues — in excess of costs — as a form of taxation to bolster general revenues.
Perhaps achieving parity with Duke Energy should be the next goal of utility reform. To achieve that goal I suggest the city develop its own field of solar panels, say in the unpopulated, sunny land between New Bern and Kinston.
In our modern world living without power, as suggested in the June 15 letter, is hardly an option. For those struggling financially from week to week, lower energy costs would be some small help.
And if that power came from renewables all the better; and all the more likely, if rates did drop, that bills would be paid.
That would be a positive reward for all of us.
And it’s a pleasure to remember Billy Smith.
John Phaup, New Bern
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