Council delays rate increase

Published 8:14 pm Tuesday, May 12, 2009

By Staff
Also learns angled-parking on Main Street not feasible
Contributing Editor
The Washington City Council voted 3-2 Monday night not to increase retail electric rates until it deliberates the upcoming budget for Washington Electric Utilities.
An increase is coming, but the council will decide when it begins during its budget deliberations.
Mayor Pro Tempore Doug Mercer and Councilmen Gil Davis and Archie Jennings voted for the measure. Councilmen Richard Brooks and Darwin Woolard voted against the measure. The vote came during the council’s meeting Monday.
A proposal to increase retail rates by 5 percent in June’s billings was on the council’s agenda, but that proposal went nowhere following debate on the matter. The wholesale rate the city pays for power went up 4 percent in February.
The effect of that increase and the expenses of delaying an increase in the city’s retail rates until June will result in increased costs of $1,928,270 during the upcoming 2009-2010 fiscal year, according to City Manager James C. Smith.
The 5 percent increase in retail rates would have raised about $1.79 million, leaving a shortfall of about $140,000, Smith told the council.
Mercer said that revenue from retail rates is bringing in more money than budgeted, and expenses are less than WEU budgeted for the first 10 months of this fiscal year.
If that trend continues in May and June, the city should have enough money to meet the current WEU budget without raising retail rates this fiscal year.
Mercer said his projections indicate a 3.7 percent increase in retail rates would cover the 4 percent rate increase the city incurred in February, providing a revenue-neutral increase.
Since the city’s cost for power went up by $99,940 a month in February, an increase in what it charges its customers should generate only enough revenue to cover that amount, Mercer contended.
Mercer agreed, saying the city used $500,000 in contingency money in this year’s budget to cover the cost of the 4 percent increase without having to pass that increase to its customers in the last five months of this fiscal year.
In other business, the council learned that fire codes won’t allow angled parking, or diagonal parking, on Main Street — there wouldn’t be enough room for fire trucks to properly operate.
Fred Watkins III, a member of Citizens for Revitalization, and Gary Tomasulo, president of the Historic Downtown Washington Merchants Association, had planned to ask the City Council during its meeting Monday to consider angled parking for the north side of Main Street in the downtown area. That would leave parallel-parking spaces on the south side of the street in place.
However, a demonstration Monday morning on Main Street showed that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for fire trucks to safely maneuver on the street or park and fight fires in the downtown area.
Jimmy Davis, chief of the city’s Fire-Rescue-EMS-Inspections Department, said angled parking would reduce the travel area on Main Street from 24 feet to 17 feet, not enough room for fire trucks.
The state requires at least 26 feet, but because Main Street was built before existing fire codes went into effect, the street is exempt from the existing codes under a “grandfather” clause.
Watkins said visits to commercial areas in Wilmington, Raleigh and other cities and towns in North Carolina where angled parking is used exclusively or in combination with parallel parking convinced him angled parking improves customer traffic for merchants.
The angled-parking concept is not new; downtown used to have angled parking. It’s come up in recent years when people discussed downtown development and provided input for downtown-revitalization proposals.
Tomasulo said he’d like to see downtown so busy that people have a difficult time finding parking spaces.
Cutline for corresponding photo: Jimmy Davis, city of Washington chief of Fire-Rescue-EMS-Inspections, speaks about Main Street parking during Monday night’s City Council meeting as Washington residents Gary Tomasulo and Fred Watkins III look on. (WDN Photo/Paul Dunn)