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There’s sticker shock over eletric bills

The area is experiencing the coldest winter in more than a decade. Higher utility bills are to be expected.

Despite that, many residents and business owners are complaining and asking questions.

As evidence, consider that the following or something like it has been said a lot over the last week or two.

“I’ve lived in Paris 47 years and my electric bill is the highest I’ve ever seen,” the man in the restaurant said.

Then he added an unexpected kicker. “And I heat with gas.”

Last week, two business owners in Paris said they’ve talked to the Paris Mayor Daniel Rogers about how high utility costs are affecting their businesses. One of them said, “if this goes on, I’ll have to close my doors.”

If sticker shock over high utility bills were a disease, there would be an epidemic in Paris. For many residents and business owners, January bills were high. February bills were higher and have sparked numerous complaints and questions to city officials.

“I’ve gotten several phone calls and messages about electric bills,” Rogers said Monday. “More than I’ve ever gotten. Aldermen are hearing about them, too.”

In fact, last week, a member of the Paris City Council was at lunch. In response to a request to speak to him, the Alderman immediately asked, “Is this about electric bills?”

In response to all the questions and complaints, Rogers held a public meeting after Monday’s City Council meeting so that those in attendance could ask questions about electric bills. An official from the Oklahoma Municipal Power Association, which sells electricity to the city under a contract, was present.

Buddy Schwartz, owner of two convenience stores in Paris, with other locations elsewhere, said Monday he was planning to attend. That’s because Schwartz has been looking into the utility cost at his two stores here since October or November.

“What it all boils down to is that the utilities at my two stores here are much, much higher than they were in 2012,” Schwartz said last week. “In 2012, one of my stores used more kilowatt hours than it did in 2013 but the bill in 2013, including the fuel cost adjustment, was higher. The cost adjustment here is basically $500 to $800 a month more than in the one store I have in Morrison Bluff.

“If this goes on, I’ll have to close my stores in Paris,” Schwartz said. “We don’t have this kind of thing in our other stores. This can’t continue.”

Trevor Myers, President of Cloyes Gear and Product, Inc., the largest employer in the community, has also been questioning the cost utilities in Paris. Cloyes also has a plant in Subiaco.

“Rates are generally lower there,” Myers said of his Subiaco location. He offered some figures that backed up his claim.

In November, 2012, Cloyes paid 7.9 cents per kilowatt hour in Paris. In November, 2013, the price was 9.1 cents per kilowatt hour. At the Subiaco plant, the price in November, 2013 was 5.3 cents per kilowatt hour and 4.6 cents in November, 2012.

“It’s been consistently higher in Paris and at the Subiaco plant, we use about two times the electricity,” Myers said.

The Subiaco plant’s electricity provider is OG&E. Myers gets the industrial rate at both facilities.

“We spoke to the Mayor of Paris a couple of times last year,” Myers said. “He’s been concerned, as well, and is looking for ways to help us. It’s become an issue.”

Other business owners and residents have expressed similar concerns, but asked not to be quoted.

Monday, Rogers said he’s going to continue looking for ways to help residents and businesses cope with utility costs.

One way, he said, was to provide a levelized billing option. Rogers offered the idea last year but met resistance from some members of the City Council. When he brought a levelized billing ordinance before the City Council last year, Rogers said he couldn’t get a single Alderman to put it on the table for a vote.

One of the questions raised was whether the city’s computer software can handle it. Monday, Rogers said the city’s software provider assures him the city’s software can.

“So, I’m still looking at the idea,” Rogers said. “The software provider also tells me they can set it up so that residents can look at their bills and pay them online. I’m going to continue looking at other ideas, too.”

The high bills may not be going away soon because the winter weather is expected to continue for several more weeks, if not longer.