The Memphis City Council approved raising electrical rates by a vote of 11 to 1, with an abstention. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

After months of debate and voting delays, the Memphis City Council reached almost unanimous approval of an electric rate increase on Tuesday.

As a result, the monthly bills of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division’s residential customers will increase by $8.98 over a three-year implementation period. The first increase of $3.70 will happen in July.

The final vote on the electric increase was 11 to 1. Councilman Frank Colvett was the only member to vote no, while councilwoman Jamita Swearengen abstained.

The decision came after MLGW’s CEO, J.T. Young, proposed an alternative plan at the Jan. 7 meeting. That proposal was put forth in the wake of council members shooting down another proposal last December. The council approved smaller gas and water rate hikes over the same multi-year schedule at that same meeting last year.

Support for the electric rate hike resolution didn’t come without debate or provisions. Newly-elected Councilman J.B Smiley (Super District 8-1) proposed an amendment requiring MLGW to provide monthly reports detailing their efforts to reduce costs, a final report at the meeting in May, and to seek a legal opinion by an independent council regarding the bond issuance for MLGW’s ailing infrastructure.

Smiley’s suggestion came after Dr. Jeff Warren (Super District 9-3) questioned MLGW’s authority to use bonds to fix the infrastructure.

“I think we all agreed that power outages are our main concern,” Warren told Young. “We don’t differ on the need, but we differ on the solution.”

Warren also pushed MLGW leaders to look for additional energy supply providers outside of the Tennessee Valley Authority as a way to cut costs.

Young said he would be making a recommendation to the council regarding energy suppliers in the spring.