District 4’s Jamita Swearengen and District 5’s Worth Morgan take the oath of office for service on the Memphis City Council. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

Pressing on the agenda was Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division’s proposed electricity-rate hike as six new members joined eight returning members for the first Memphis City Council meeting of 2020 on Tuesday.

According to MLGW President J.T. Young, if the council doesn’t vote on the increase soon, customer outage minutes through the year would likely increase. 

In December, the council did a two-step on MLGW’s original, three-pronged proposal for a boost of utility rates. In an 8-5 vote, members approved an increase on gas and water, but held up on  raising electricity rates. Instead, the council sent MLGW leaders back to their utility board with recommendations. 

J. T. Young

Tuesday, Young presented council members with an alternative proposal; but the new plan showed very little differences from the one he and his team presented to the council last year. 

The original plan would allow for $1 billion dollars in infrastructure improvements for water, gas and electric over a five-year period, with rate hikes spread over three years. The alternative presented Tuesday would increase the average residential monthly by $8.98 over that period. That compares to a $9 average residential increase in the original proposal. 

Council members said they wanted to be sure that MLGW had utilized enough cost-saving cuts before attempting to implement an increase. In December, outgoing chairman Kemp Conrad suggested that the utility company should begin implementing the upgrades before rate hikes. 

“They should have been done years ago,” he said before adding that the council did not have confidence in the competence of MLGW to get things done.

“This would put it back on you and not us,” Conrad told MLGW leaders. 

Little has changed since December, as no decisions were made on the alternative. It’s something Young said the council should reconsider.

“The system is just getting worse every year,” he said. “The longer we go without a decision then the longer it is before we can start ginning up resources to get things done, so it just delays that.”

Council members pulled December’s rejection of the electric hike from the minutes, allowing them to reconsider MLGW’s plan at the next council meeting, January 21. 

The utility company is also studying whether it should get its power from a source other than TVA in a formal Integrated Resource Plan (IRP). That report is expected this spring. 

District 3 Council member and new Memphis City Council Chairperson Patrice Robinson was in familiar company during the swearing-in ceremony on New Year’s Day. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

In other business

Council members also reviewed the second term appointees submitted by Mayor Jim Strickland last week. Thirteen of the 15 appointees are reappointments of division directors and chiefs. The new appointees are Chief Legal Officer Jennifer Sink, who would succeed Bruce McMullen, and Information Services Director Kimberly Bailey, who succeeds Mike Rodriguez.

Council member Cheyenne Johnson told Strickland that she wanted to see more African-American representation at the top. The mayor pushed back, citing data that his administration released earlier this week. The data highlighted that more minorities are working as department directors in Strickland’s administration compared to that of former Mayor A C Wharton. 

“I’m very confident that we have a quality, diverse team,” Strickland said. “The most diverse this city has ever had.”

The council is set to vote on the appointees at the next council meeting.