Friday, January 19, 2001

Gas users complain to city, utility

Price talk dominates public forum

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cinergy customer Jeffery Mitchell is so frustrated by the increase in his monthly gas bill that on Thursday, during a public hearing in Bond Hill, he demanded that the utility remove his home's gas line and meter.

        “I can do a lot better on my own,” Mr. Mitchell told a panel of Cinergy officials and Cincinnati City Council members. “I can do a lot better than this.”

        He said his heating bill for December totaled $462. In January, his bill was $708.

        Nearly 75 residents attended council's Finance Committee meeting at the Bond Hill Community Center Thursday, where the sole topic was heating costs.

        Sam Nellom, of Bond Hill, who owns rental property, told officials he was hesitant to pass some of the increases on to his tenants, but he had to.

        “I don't want to put it all on them, because I don't want to lose them,” he said Thursday, adding that he sent letters to his tenants advising them of ways to save energy and stay warm using less heat.

        He said he didn't know what else to do.

        Cinergy officials had few answers, saying that consumer costs have jumped by 60 percent from this time last year.

        The higher bills can be attributed to the higher cost of natural gas overall, coupled with an increase in usage, said Jim Dugan, Cinergy's manager of Government Services.

        The “pass through” cost of natural gas, which com prises about 75 percent of the customer's bill, is the actual cost Cinergy has to pay suppliers, he said.

        The remaining 25 percent of the bill represents the cost of delivering the gas to the customer, which he said has remained constant.

        He urged customers to look at other payment options, such as spreading out payments over a year, or seeking out programs such as the weatherization plan run by People Working Cooperatively (PWC), a nonprofit agency that specializes in weatherization, home repairs and related services for the needy.

        Vice Mayor and Finance Committee Chair Minette Cooper told residents she understood their problem, but there is little any government official can do; rising energy costs have hit the city as well.

        The cost and usage of gas in city buildings has in creased by 32 percent over the past year, officials said.

        Councilwoman Alicia Reece said she planned to send Gov. Bob Taft a letter todayasking him to lower the gas tax in order to ease some of the burden on consumers.

        She also is seeking 10,000 signatures from residents of Hamilton County on a petition to urge the city to join Akron, Columbus and Cleveland in asking for aggregation, a process that would allow voters to decide whether they want to buy their gas in bulk — “putting the power in the hands of consumers,” she said.

        The petition would be delivered to Alan Schriber, head of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Ms. Reece said.

        For information on bill payment options call Cinergy at 1-866-2ENERGY(36-3749). To reach PWC, call 351-7921. To reach Ms. Reece, call 352-3638.


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