Hydroelectric royalties yield rebate for 2016

Published 12:04 am Friday, July 3, 2015

VIDALIA — Vidalia residential utility customers allegedly will receive a rebate in 2016 from hydroelectric royalty funds averaging $43.50, the Concordia Sentinel newspaper reported Wednesday.

Details in the article were attributed to Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland and Vidalia accountant Ashley Anderson, neither of whom returned repeated phone messages left for them.

That rebate information came as somewhat of a surprise to at least one Vidalia alderman.

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“It’s not decided,” Alderman Jon Betts said. “That’s what’s in the proposed budget for next year, but that budget hasn’t been approved yet.”

The City of Vidalia will hold two public hearings beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday, July 9. One hearing will allow public input on the budget year that ended June 30. The second hearing is to receive public input on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2015-2016.

Betts said aldermen typically vote on the budget during the board’s regular meeting, which follows the July 9 public hearings.

“I’m not surprised that people will get a rebate. That had already been said in the public hearings. We said there would be a rebate and there should be a rebate. Whether what they are proposing to rebate is correct or not, I don’t know,” Betts said. “There should be a rebate, but I would think the rebate would be based on previous year’s actual totals, not something in the proposed budget.”

He said though Vidalia’s fiscal year ended June 30, the financial reporting for the year is not complete yet.

“The amount of the rebate is very debatable,” Betts said. “I wouldn’t base it on a proposed 2016. It should be based on actual figures from 2014-15, rather than expected figures from 2015-16. I want the rebates to be done, but done correctly. I want everything done correctly.”

He urged Vidalia residents to come to the city’s public hearings on the budget on July 9.

“I think it’s important that, again, people come to the public hearings to discuss the budget and hear the presentation. If you have questions, ask them. It’s also important that we actually have our public hearings on the hydro funds as per ordinance, which requires two each year,” Betts said.

Vidalia Alderman Vernon Stevens said the decision to issue rebates to electric utility customers “was made over a month ago. It was before the pubic meetings. We knew there should be enough for a rebate.”

City officials held public hearings on how hydroelectric royalty funds would be spent at the urging of the Louisiana Bond Commission.

The use of Vidalia’s hydroelectric royalties came to the forefront recently when it was revealed the City of Vidalia proposed to issue approximately $7 million in bonds to purchase land and construct infrastructure for a Square on Carter commercial development. City officials proposed using hydroelectric royalties to back those bonds.

However, the Louisiana Bond Commission tabled any action on the project at its May 21 meeting until the city could hold public hearings about how hydroelectric royalties would be spent.

State Treasurer John Kennedy said Vidalia’s hydroelectric ordinance calls for public hearings to discuss rebates to customers, but Vidalia had not held those hearings.

Since that time, the city held two such hearings, during which Mayor Copeland promised residents a hydroelectric royalty rebate “next year.”

Nonetheless, the bond commission has since rejected the project after Kennedy said he received an opinion from the Louisiana Attorney General that the Square on Carter project does not meet state constitutional requirements for a “valid public purpose.”

Stevens said rebates would be based on 2014-2015 fiscal year hydroelectric revenues.

“They (customers) will get them I think at the first part of the year,” he said.

The formula for distribution will be based on usage.

“We have three types of customers — industrial, commercial and residential. Since rebates are based on usage, the bulk of the rebates will go to the people who use it most,” Stevens said. “If you take a business like BASF, they will be one of the bigger users, as well as Bunge and a couple of others. The money available for rebate will be divided by total usage, so someone with a $3,500 a month utility bill will get a larger rebate than someone with a $200 a month bill.”