Business owners unhappy with loss of utility discount

Friday, September 15, 2006

Jackson's electric rate increases may force Jason Wray to move his business to Cape Girardeau.

The city's board of aldermen is expected to approve three 12 percent rate increases over the next six months at a regular meeting Monday. The board will also approve continuing the 10 percent discount for residents who pay by the 10th of the month.

For commercial businesses, the discount program will be eliminated -- a move that has some business owners upset.

Wray owns and operates Creative Edge at 810 E. Jackson Blvd. The business is a specialized marketing firm that is run from three buildings.

"I pay three electric bills, so this is going to greatly affect me," Wray said.

He is preparing to combine his three office locations under one roof, but also said he's considering moving to Cape Girardeau.

"We have purchased land to build in Jackson. However, there are different variables that are causing us to look at different options," he said. "The electric rate increases are certainly making it more expensive to operate."

Wray, who uses the early pay discount program, figures he spends about $1,000 per month in electric bills. After the rate increases take effect and the discount program is eliminated, he figures it will cost him an additional $5,000 per year.

"That's insane. This makes me think that the city is not looking at the interest of the small-business owners," he said.

City administrator Jim Roach said that if the discount program would continue for businesses, the electric rate increase would have been more. Instead of three 12 percent increases, the city would need to implement three 13 percent rate boosts.

"We tried to strike a happy medium with the discount program," Roach said. "Businesses can recoup those costs, but residential folks don't have that opportunity."

For business owner Charlie Glueck, who pays his utility bills by the 10th of the month, eliminating the discount program amounts to an additional rate increase.

"When you are going to have three increases, and take away that discount, it's like four increases," said Glueck, owner of Jackson Fast Lube at 1901 E. Jackson Blvd. "It's pretty obvious we're going to have to pass those costs on to our customers."

In uptown Jackson, Steve Blankenship, owner of Tractors Classic American Grill at 124 S. High St., said he understands why the city needs to increase electric rates.

"The electric rates have always been a lot cheaper here," he said. "Our rates are going up now, but within the next year Cape's will too."

In July the largest provider of electricity in Missouri, Ameren UE, proposed a rate increase. If approved by the state's Public Service Commission, Ameren's rate increase would raise electric bills by an average of 17.7 percent.

But the increase is tiered so different classes of customers would receive different rates. The increase for homeowners would be capped at 10 percent. Retail customers would see a rise of 23 percent and industrial consumers an average rise of 29 percent.

Jackson Chamber of Commerce executive director Marybeth Williams said she hopes the rate increase won't affect the chamber's goal of attracting new businesses to the city.

"I haven't really thought about it much but I sure hope that's not a deal breaker when it comes to whether they want to come to Jackson or not," she said.

jfreeze@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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