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Vidalia electric rates discussed

VIDALIA — A plan to institute a flat rate for residential and commercial electricity for Vidalia never made it onto the agenda at the Wednesday Board of Aldermen meeting.

Moments after Mayor Buz Craft called for a motion to adjourn, Alderman Sabrina Dore said she had an item she wanted to add to the agenda.

Town attorney George Murray said aldermen must unanimously approve an addition to the agenda in order to change the standing plan.

Three aldermen voted to add the item, which Dore said was her plan to introduce a flat electric rate for commercial and residential consumers in Vidalia, but aldermen Robert Gardner and Jon Betts voted against adding the matter to the agenda.

Craft said Dore’s plan, which would institute a 9-cent per kilowatt hour flat, non-fluctuating rate for residential consumers and an 11-cent flat rate for commercial residents, could break Vidalia’s already bursting budget.

Craft said the town is just barely breaking even, due to the reduced income from lower utility usage and the absence of the Fruit of the Loom plant, among other factors.

In the November meeting, Dore brought the flat rate up for discussion, but at the time, did not know how much money the revenue the ordinance would take from the budget.

“That’s irresponsible,” Craft said. “You can’t introduce this ordinance and have no idea what the effect will be. We have been begging for (aldermen) to come and sit down and talk sense with us, but they just won’t.”

Craft, who is a former banker, said he calculated the approximate loss of revenue based on last year’s electric rates to be between $1.3 and $1.5 million.

“To take away that much money, you’re talking about a severe cut of jobs or services,” Craft said. “Here’s what’s disturbing: she has not discussed with anybody that I know of anything about where those cuts would come from. She had no idea. If they’re trying to bring Vidalia down to other towns our size, I’m going to fight them.”

Craft said he is in favor of lowering electricity costs to residents, but that the town “has a lot of work to do” to get there.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Craft said, “but I am not going to let our town regress. I would agree there could be improvements, but I am not letting our town go backward.”

Dore, too made a similar calculation, saying she believed the flat tax rate would mean a $1.5 million loss of revenue.

Dore said she has not met with the mayor because he has been out sick or on vacation often since the November meeting.

Dore said she wanted to meet with the town accountant, but that she was told she had to make an appointment with the mayor to do so. Dore said the mayor was out sick at that time.

“That’s not an accusation or anything,” Dore said. “That’s just how it happened to work out.”

Dore said she fully intends to visit the mayor and the town accountant to look at the budget before next month’s meeting.

Craft said Dore could have added the item to the agenda beforehand, when all other items were added.

Dore said she did not add the ordinance to the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting because she did not know that the mayor would approve the addition.

“The mayor controls the budget,” Dore said. “I didn’t want to try to add it and then it get rejected. He could reject it. I thought I could just add it in the meeting.”

Dore said she consulted with the Louisiana Municipal Association and believed she was allowed to add an item to the agenda without the unanimous vote of the other aldermen.

Murray, however, said the Dore was still subject to open meeting rules, which stipulate the unanimous support of an agenda addition.

“It was a difference in interpretation,” Dore said. “I interpreted the word ‘may’ to mean I could. George interpreted it differently.”

Dore said she hopes to seek the opinion of the Louisiana Attorney General to clear up the misunderstanding.

In order to seek an attorney general’s opinion, however, Dore will have to seek the approval of the aldermen, which means she must add her motion to send a letter to the next board member’s agenda.

Craft said Dore’s unwillingness to cooperate with him and his office is reflective of the lack of cooperation between the aldermen and the town.

“This is a perfect example of what has been happening for a year and a half,” Craft said. “They come in, sit down and be combative about the work we’re trying to do for the town.”

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