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Greenville Utilities customers are making progress in paying bills they were allowed to postpone after the pandemic began in March, officials said last week, and the utility is hoping to begin moving into its new operations center later this month.
Members of the Greenville Utilities Commission Board of Directors discussed the progress along with other business at their monthly meeting on Thursday. CEO/General Manager Tony Cannon said the number of unpaid bills has been dropping steadily as more customers make payment arrangements.
GUC and other municipal utility providers have incurred a backlog of unpaid bills after they halted utility shutoffs and allow customers to delay payment for services in response to job losses and salary cuts related to COVID-19.
GUC currently has 2,300 customers who haven’t made payment arrangements. “That number is down from a high of 6,500,” Cannon said. “Last month, we started the month of August, with a little over 4,000 … It is consistently coming down and we are getting in much better, back to where we were before.”
Greenville City Manager Ann Wall asked Chief Financial Officer Jeff W. McCauley if he has concerns about GUC’s revenue stream.
“I think we are seeing a positive trend and the industrial side continues to do good,” McCauley said. He and his team just have to keep an eye of receivables.
“Overall our metrics continue to remain stable and we have 147 days of cash on hand which is where we were at last year,” McCauley said.
With work nearing completion on the first three buildings of the $53 million operations center complex, the board unanimously approved construction of two equipment shelters at the site on N.C. 43 adjacent Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (U.S. 264 Bypass) north of Greenville.
When the project was bid in 2018, the two shelters were removed to ensure the project remained in budget, said Chris Padgett, GUC chief administrative officer.
Construction of the first three buildings — engineering, warehouse and system support facility along with the fueling island and storage yard — stayed well within budget, so the shelters can be built.
Staff has budgeted $937,684, which includes a 5 percent owner contingency, for the two structures, he said.
Each shelter is 7,200 square feet. The pre-engineered buildings will be enclosed on three sides with an open front. They will have steel frames, concrete floors and metal roofs.
Padgett said occupancy permits for the new buildings should be issued this week and move in will begin the week of Sept. 28.
Padgett also reported that T.A. Loving has been selected to build the fleet maintenance building for the center. Intrepid Architecture and Rivers and Associates will design the facility.
New generation systems
The board voted unanimously to award Gregory Poole Power Systems a $1,055,500 contract to replace a 1,000 kilowatt peak shaving generation system located at 500 Industrial Blvd.
GUC operates 13 peak generation systems across its electric grid. The systems are used when it appears that Duke Energy Progress, which is the wholesale supplier of Greenville’s electricity, reaches maximum capacity.
Kyle Brown, electric planning engineer, said Duke typically charges 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour but during the one hour a month it reaches its peak, the price goes up to $23.41 per kilowatt hour.
That peak hour makes up 53 percent of GUC’s wholesale electric costs, Brown said.
The existing generation systems, which are fueled by diesel, save GUC $23,410 a month, Brown said.
GUC needs to replace 10 of its 13 generation systems. The new systems will be powered by natural gas, where it’s possible, which will decrease operations and maintenance costs along with emissions.
Staff has budgeted $6 million to replace systems through fiscal year 2021-22.
Replacing all the generators will cost $12 million.
The board also unanimously approved recommended adjustments to the joint insurance program it shares with the city after agreeing to absorb medical and dental premium increases for employees, officials said.
The medical plan premiums will increase by 1.5 percent and dental will increase by 2 percent. The city and GUC will cover the increases so employees won’t pay more.
Other benefit recommendations included giving a health savings account contribution of $250 for individuals and $500 for families to encourage them to enroll in high deductible health plans. The money is only given the first year of enrollment and is in addition to the $500 individual and $1,000 family in annual funding.
Steve Graybill, a benefits consultant, said the organizations’ self-funded insurance program has been running below budget this year, even with the costs associated with COVID-19 testing.
Graybill said medical and dental costs are expected to increase in 2021 but the joint benefits program projections are usually below national trends.
There is uncertainty associated with COVID-19 and the costs of administering vaccinations to employees.
GUC’s joint pay and benefits committee recommended several prescription program enhancements be offered to employees this year.
Twenty-three city and GUC employees have specialty drug prescriptions that cost $2,000 or more and one program will help with managing those prescriptions.
Another program will help reduce out-of-pocket costs for employees.
The third program is designed to make medications more affordable for employees with diabetes.