MLGW pushes for rate increases, council delays vote

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — At Tuesday night's Memphis City Council meeting, a resolution to increase gas rates failed, and they delayed a vote on raising water and electric rates.

Like many Memphians, David Burks can tell you firsthand what it's like to go for days without power.

"In seven days we finally got power back," Burks said Wednesday.

This was a few weeks ago after a tree fell on one of his lines. But we've been in his east Memphis neighborhood before when storms have blown through. He's not for a rate increase but knows improvements must be made.

"Kinda torn between that one," he said.

As the city council debates a rate increase, MLGW says must happen to improve aging infrastructure.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request we asked the utility company what are the top causes for outages.

Results for 2018 were not available but results from 2013 to 2017 showed more than 21 percent were due to trees. The second most common cause with more than 14 percent was equipment failure.

"Deferred maintenance does not go away. So all that we are doing, we are postponing this,we are pushing it down the road. And we are just requiring a greater rate increase on the same people we're concerned about now, but not taking any action," councilman Martavius Jones said.

The council questioned the five-year plan Tuesday night.

MLGW's President J.T. Young said there would be no increase in 2019. But after that it would be a two percent total increase, capping out after five years.

Many council members say, in a city with such a high poverty rate, they didn't want to put the burden on their constituents.

Councilman Berlin Boyd suggested looking at other energy provider options.

"If we could save our rate payers a substantial amount of money by going off to MISOS," he said.

However, a counter argument is MLGW is locked into a five-year deal with TVA, and costs to build new infrastructure would be significant.

Young says he's cautiously optimistic for the next vote.

"We believe there would be tangible results. In fact, we believe if we were to get moving some of our customers would be able to see that before the storm season started," Young said.

The council is set to vote at their next meeting.

Council member Martavius Jones told us he's looking into some type of program to address those concerned about paying more to help offset rising utility costs.

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