- Power problem

City employee John Griechen operates a road grader to plow snow Feb. 18 on the Seymour square.

A year ago, the city of Seymour’s electric usage for February was 1,987,400 kilowatts (KWs).

This year, that tally was slightly up to 2,223,100 KWs as record-low temperatures struck Seymour and the entire Midwest for nearly two weeks.

However, wholesale electric bills tell a different story.

Last year’s February bill to the city was $39,107.38.

This year’s bill amount?

$542,973.33.

“We’re looking at an increase of just over $500,000,” City Administrator Hillary Gintz told members of the Seymour Board of Aldermen at the group’s regular meeting last Thursday night. “We didn’t use that many more kilowatts, but the price per kilowatt increased by more than 10 times.”

Billing statements from the Missouri Public Utility Alliance (MPUA) in care of the 13-city Missouri Joint Municipal Electric Utility Commission (MJMEUC) confirmed Gintz’s statement.

A year ago, the city’s base cost per KW was 2.15 cents.

This year, that cost is 22.78 cents.

“I know this is news that’s probably hard to process,” Gintz told the four aldermen.

“Since I received this bill, I’ve been having a hard time realizing that our electric bill for one month just went up by a half-million dollars.”

All four aldermen sat in silence.

“I’ve typically got a comment for just about everything, but I’m speechless on this one, Hillary,” South Ward Alderman Dan Wehmer said. “We don’t have the money to pay for this ... certainly not in this year’s budget. Covering this cost will kill our cash flow.”

Gintz said MJMEUC wasn’t demanding full payment.

“They are giving us time,” she explained. “Right now, the time we have for full payment is 24 months with 1.31 percent interest. The actual charges for the amount of power we used aren’t final, but they will be close to what’s on the bill. And we’re not alone in this. Every city in MJMEUC, as well as electric providers statewide and in many other states, are facing this issue after February’s storms.”

Wehmer said the city couldn’t afford to cover the cost.

“We can’t eat this,” he said. “Although this is a huge cost, we can’t cover it. Doing so would be financially irresponsible. Besides that, it would break the city ... or in a best-case scenario, force us to eliminate many city services.

“The city runs tight as it is. Our profit margin on electric has been declining for many years. And now this. We have to find a way to pass it on and pass it on fairly.”

Gintz said she had started exploring options for repayment by customers.

“Our MPUA representative said that cities are passing on the cost to customers ... there is no other choice that’s financially responsible,” she explained. “If we passed (the cost) on per meter, it’s roughly $25 per meter for two years. I’m not saying that’s what we should do. In fact, I’d suggest we not do that. It’s just an option I came up with on short notice that would spread the cost evenly.

“But (the MPUA representative) said the cost has to be passed on. It will break cities financially if they have to cover it by themselves.”

North Ward Alderman Jim Ashley agreed.

“There’s no doubt we’ll have to pass on the cost — at least a big part of it,” he said. “But if we pass this on, we shouldn’t bill the cost to those who didn’t use much power.”

“I agree with Jim on this,” Wehmer said. “I think the only fair way to do it is by kilowatt. Those who used the most will have to pay on a pro-rated scale.”

North Ward Alderman William Pogue and South Ward Alderman Nadine Crisp said they also were in favor of the repayment formula being compiled by kilowatt usage.

“I’m just doing rough math here, but looking at the KW usage and knowing that a handful of customers use about half of the city’s electric each month, my guess is that we’re looking at about $15 to $20 per month extra on each residential customer’s bill over the next two years,” Wehmer said. “Now that’s just my guess, but I don’t think that I’m too far off.”

“Right now, I don’t even want for us to speculate on this,” Gintz said. “We do have some time. Not a lot of time, but I need time to run the numbers and try to find a fair way in the best interest of everyone in the city.

“And I’d also like to see what other cities are doing,” she continued. “For example, I know that Willow Springs, which is a city about the same size as ours and a MJMEUC member like us, had a $700,000 bill ... more than ours.”

Gintz said an online Zoom meeting was set for Friday morning with other cities in Seymour’s power pool and the MPUA.

“After that meeting, I’ll need to put together the best plan that I think will be the most fair to our customers,” she said.

“I’ll have (that plan) ready at our meeting next week.”

She said a final decision needed to be made by the end of April.

“That’s when we need to have our minds made up as to how we’re going to repay (the February electric bill) and also decide how this cost is going to be absorbed by our roughly 800 (electric) customers,” Gintz noted.

“I know this really isn’t something you planned on hearing or wanted to hear tonight, but this is a big issue that we do have to plan for in the next few weeks.”

The city’s next meeting arrives at 6 p.m. this Thursday, as the regularly scheduled meeting for April 8 was moved up because next Tuesday’s election results can’t be certified by that time.

“We may have to hold a special meeting or two in April to deal with this,” Wehmer said.

Gintz was optimistic.

“I think we’ll be able to have a pretty good handle on this by next Thursday,” she said. “By that time, I’ll be able to take a hard look at the numbers and come up with what I feel is the best option for you to consider.”

This Thursday’s meeting is open to the public at will be held in council chambers at Seymour City Hall.

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