Vidalia utility rebates are a joke

Published 1:32 am Sunday, January 31, 2016

I am writing to address the utility rebates recently given to citizens of Vidalia and to express my opinion about the handling of the income from the S. A. Murray, Jr. Hydroelectric Station.

As I understand it, the rebates averaged $50 per citizen, which were deducted from our utility bills. Are we supposed to be happy about this? Are we supposed to cheer on the mayor and board of aldermen for their generosity with our money? I believe this token rebate is a slap in the face of each citizen and a patronizing gesture in an election year.

The income from the hydroelectric plant is governed by Town Ordinance No. 588, which outlines specific guidelines for the expenditures of the royalties received by the town, with a provision concerning rebates. We have not received a rebate since 2005 and the town has received literally millions of dollars available for rebate after the payment of expenses as provided in the ordinance. Where did all this money go? Was it spent legally according to the ordinance? One expenditure made in 2013 of $656,074 was a transfer from the hydro revenues to the general fund to pay back taxes the town owed when it did not pay its payroll taxes timely. There is absolutely no provision in the town ordinance that allows for this expenditure.

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What else is being improperly done with this money? The 2014 audit of the city’s finances showed that spending of the hydroelectric income for that year alone was 156 percent over budget. The auditors cited this as a violation of state law, statute 39:1311. Why are we putting up with this overspending?

I have asked repeatedly for information, in detail, about the breakdown of the expenditures from the Hydroelectric Fund, and in an open meeting at City Hall in June 2015, Mayor Copeland assured me that I would get my information. To date, I have not gotten a clear explanation of how each dollar is being spent. Blanket amounts are being moved from the Hydro Fund into the town’s general account with no explanation as to what the expenditures are for. No one seems to have this information or to be forthcoming with it.

As the daughter of Sidney A. Murray Jr., former mayor of Vidalia, who worked diligently and tirelessly to make the hydro plant a reality, I know that one of his major goals in establishing the hydro plant was to help each citizen by keeping utility costs down and providing a rebate to the people. He wanted each of you to see a tangible return on the town’s investment in the hydroelectric plant, that is, money in your pocket. We have not seen this in many years and $50 per household is not sufficient. As a matter of fact, it is a joke. As the kids today would say, “REALLY?” Why are we putting up with electric rates that seem to be much higher than those in neighboring areas?

Be aware that elections for mayor and board of aldermen are coming up in the spring of 2016. If you are happy with your electric bills, then you might want to stick with the status quo. Otherwise, you should take a close look at what the present mayor and his board have done with your money and consider making a change when you go to the voting booth.


Patricia Murray Lane

Vidalia resident