City seeks electric bill fix

Police chief touts community outreach efforts

By Mary Katherine Murphy - [email protected]

LAURINBURG — To avoid saddling customers with unexpectedly large bills due to variable billing periods, the city’s electric department proposed on Tuesday to read all electric meters on a single day each month.

Last month, several city electric customers complained to the Laurinburg City Council that their electric bills doubled from July to August.

On Tuesday, utility billing director Tammie Simmons explained that, although the department aims for a standard billing period of 28 to 33 days, customers were billed for as few as 22 days in July and up to 39 days in August.

In July, Simmons said, some meters were read early in order to accommodate readers who needed extended time off for training and family commitments.

The extremely long and short billing periods affected some 2,100 of the city’s 5,600 electric customers, including 500 at the Laurinburg Housing Authority.

“We usually do not have a problem reading our meters in a timely manner,” Simmons said. “When we do, it’s because of a holiday that falls on a Monday or a Friday, scheduled holidays, software problems, ice, snow, sickness that causes our meter readers to be out. We do try to work extra hard when we’re short and we usually can do it, but it just snowballed on us.”

The city’s electric meters are read automatically, sparing personnel the task of visually checking meters at each home. With that, it is possible for all meters to be read on the same day to standardize electric billing periods.

“In light of the confusion that all of this has caused, we would like to propose that we read all of our electric meters maybe in two days instead of every day,” said Simmons. “We can do that — we could read all of the electric meters in four hours, but because we’re still manually reading our water meters we get behind.”

Currently, electric meters are read on a similar schedule to the water meters, as unsynchronized water and electric billing cycles have confused customers in the past.

Council did not approve the proposal on Tuesday, but is expected to take up the issue during its regular meeting on Sept. 22. Council member Curtis Leak pressed for a guarantee of a 32-day maximum billing cycle, and endorsed hiring a fourth meter reader if necessary.

“If we need to put some more resources in there, let’s keep that thing under 30 days,” Leak said. “People can count one to 30; everybody that gets a check knows what a month is, but when you come in with this 26, 27, 39 and all that, that ain’t no month, that’s two months to me.”

Also on Tuesday, council heard from Laurinburg Police Department Chief Darwin Williams. Williams updated the board on the department’s adoption of body cameras that provide five hours per shift of video recording in addition to video and audio recorded in each patrol vehicle.

The department has held two community cookouts recently in Tara Village and at the Stewartsville Community Center, which totaled more than 500 attendees.

“We have to start with our youth, so as they grow older they understand our purpose as far as law enforcement and that we’re there to be their friends and be allies with them,” Williams said.

The police department is also prioritizing the hiring of Scotland County natives as police officers, particularly younger individuals who can better connect with children and teenagers.

Williams is also working to ensure that local offenders face federal charges when possible.

“I’ll be the first to tell you that, if we’ve got repeat offenders I’m going to get them out of here,” he said. “We don’t need them sitting down here in the Scotland County jail when we could charge them on the federal level where the penalties are much stiffer.

“It sends a message, and if they know that we’re going to send them to the federal authorities, especially those who are convicted felons, they’re more apt to walk away from criminal activity.”

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.

Police chief touts community outreach efforts

By Mary Katherine Murphy

[email protected]

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