On multiple occasions, Memphis Light Gas & Water has asked the Memphis City Council to increase utility rates to pay for long-overdue updates to MLGW’s infrastructure. And in the final meeting of the year, the Council said OK – mostly.
Council members approved an increase on gas and water, but voted 8-5 against raising electricity rates – for now.
Under MLGW’s proposed plan, the average residential monthly bill would rise by $4.33 a month on water and 74 cents more for gas within a three-year-period. The electric rate increase would have been the highest, at about $9 a month – which is why it was the increase that caused the most stir among council members.
In a lengthy three-hour debate, most city leaders agreed on the need for fixing the MLGW infrastructure but were at odds on how to go about it. Outgoing council member Berlin Boyd recalled a recent incident with a resident who he said stopped him in the grocery store to discuss the “MLGW stuff.”
“She said an increase would be life or death for her because she’s on a fixed income and would have to decide if she can afford her electric bill or insulin,” Boyd said. “My support has to be with her.”
Boyd was among the eight council members who voted against the electric hike – most citing it as a disservice to the residents in the city, many of whom are living in poverty.
“It’s not about things, it’s about people,” outgoing council member Joe Brown said. “We have to put our residents first and some of the things MLGW is doing should be considered criminal.”
Other council members mentioned their constituents’ complaints of poor customer service from MLGW employees and lack of faith in the utility company as a whole.
“If we move forward with this, can we please focus on the customer service?” council chair-elect, Patrice Robinson asked MLGW President J.T. Young. “We get too many complaints about this.”
Before the vote, council chairman Kemp Conrad made a motion to delay the electric rate vote, but the suggestion failed.
Despite the opposition, there is still a chance for an electric rate hike down the line. The council sent MLGW leaders back to their utility board with recommendations for an electric rate increase.
Also, on Tuesday, the council reversed their decision on solid waste fee increases. Dec. 3, members voted against the $7.16 a month increase. The decision came after Mayor Jim Strickland threatened the possibility of lay-offs of close to 200 sanitation workers.
The rate hike passed on an 11-2 vote. Council members Reid Hedgepeth and Cheyenne Johnson voted no.
Also, in a last-minute vote, council approved a referendum that will let voters decide on residency requirements for police officers and firefighters. Voters will now decide if the public safety workers can live within 50 miles of the city or in adjoining counties.
Tuesday was the final council meeting for outgoing council members Gerre Currie, Sherman Greer, Reid Hedgepeth, Berlin Boyd, Joe Brown, and Kemp Conrad. The council recognized the departing council members for their service.
Three of those members – Hedgepeth, Brown and Conrad – were term-limited and could not run for re-election. Six new council members will join the council in January.