AUSTIN (KXAN) - The Austin City Council voted on a plan to raise customers' energy rates Thursday night. But it looks unlikely members will cut customers living outside the city any slack.
This has been a plan months in the making to cover an estimated $86 million deficit for Austin Energy. The utility has not raised rates in 17 years.
The average residential bill would go up by about $8 a month. Churches would see a 20 percent increase, and there is a call to discount schools by 10 percent.
The utility's 55,000 customers who live outside the city, like David Partington, are facing the same increase as people who live in Austin.
"We're all city of Austin utilities, but we're still in the county," Partington said from his Southwest Travis County home. "We have no input to that process."
Wanting to pay less than Austin customers, he and other out-of-towners have explored a few options:
- Let the city annex them, so they will have a voice
- Open up competition for other electric providers
- Privatize Austin Energy, so it can make decisions without City Council
Then there is also a legal maneuver. They can appeal the matter to the state's Public Utility Commission.
"Well, I think the purpose of this law is to give a voice to customers outside the city limits, because technically, they are not represented by the City Council," said Terry Hadley, a PUC spokesman.
To appeal to the state, customers outside of the city would need to get signatures from 5 percent of their total number -- roughly 2,750 names.
After Thursday's likely vote, Austin Energy would have to submit its final report within two weeks. Within two months -- early August -- the appeal from outside customers must make it to the state.
Hadley said it is a rare move, and the commission usually suggests municipalities and customers reach a deal first, something Partington said he does not see happening.
"The fact that this is happening around you and you have no input really, it kind of bothers me, I guess," he said.
According to Austin Energy, the number of customers outside the city has doubled in the last decade, making up about 15 percent of the total customer base.
Council is expected to vote on a five-tiered rate structure so homeowners who consume more energy pay more. The basic idea is to encourage consumers who consumer more energy to conserve in order to save money.
While Council will vote on next year's increase, they will also look to 2014 -- when rates could once again go up by another $3 to $5.
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