Commission votes to close AEP office at City Hall
by Cris Ritchie
HAZARD – The Hazard city commission on Monday voted unanimously to close an office in City Hall where for the past several years customers of American Electric Power have been able pay their monthly bills.
City Manager Carlos Combs said the city provided the office space and two employees to accept AEP payments as a service for the people, and while he informed the commission on Monday that he would like to see it remain open, staffing that office is costing the city approximately $20,000 more than what it was taking in.
“We’re losing money,” Combs said.
AEP currently pays the city 30 cents for every transaction made at the office, but Combs noted that the city would need nearly twice that amount just to break even. And while AEP had offered a 20-cent increase per transaction, the city would still be losing money each year. After several months of negotiating that increase, he added, AEP will not increase their offer any higher.
The AEP office is staffed by one full-time and one part-time employee. Combs noted that while closing the office will save the city money, it will also result in the dismissal of the part-time employee. The other employee will be moved elsewhere in city government.
An alternative of adding a $1 charge for each transaction was brought up during the commission’s August meeting, though there was some opposition, namely from Commissioner Fitz Gilbert, who again on Monday voiced his disapproval of essentially charging someone to pay a bill.
“I’m against charging the people extra money on their bill,” Gilbert said.
The city could use the $20,000 being lost each year in other areas of service, added Commissioner Jimmy Lindon, who said the city should do what it can to keep from losing money.
“I feel that we owe it to the city of Hazard and our citizens, if we can keep from going into debt, we should do that,” Lindon said.
Combs noted that the city’s finances have declined somewhat from last year, and while the local economy remains slow, the city needs to continue to save money where possible. He reiterated that he doesn’t want to see the office closed, but even after six months of negotiation with AEP for a higher rate per transaction, the city will continue to lose money if the office remains open under the current deal.
“The only thing we’re asking for it so break even,” he said, recommending that the commission vote then to either close the office or keep it open.
After several minutes of discussion, Commissioner Gilbert made a motion to close the office, which Lindon seconded. The motion was approved unanimously.
The city will give customers a 30-day notice before finally closing the office at City Hall, so that customers can have time to make alternate plans to pay their bills. Combs noted that one local bank has showed interest in picking up the service, but as of Monday no definite plans had been made.
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