BERLIN — On the heels of successful power supply contract negotiations, Dwight Davis, engineer for the town electrical consultants, Booth and Associates, on Monday presented the council with the option of taking the next step in producing a more equitable electric bill for small businesses.
“One of the objectives we’ve had from early on is the disparity between the town’s rates and other utilities’ rates,” he said. Having gone some way toward addressing that problem, Davis said the next part of the long-term plan is to bring small business electric costs into proportion with their counterparts elsewhere.
In most electric districts, the small businesses, which he called non-residential users, pay less than residential users. In Berlin, they pay more than three cents more per kilowatt hour.
In order to reduce the cost to small businesses, Davis said the town would have to appeal to the Public Service Commission in a process called a general rate case, the prosecution of which could take 5-9 months.
Berlin will likely be able to make the case without increasing the residential rates because of the efficient way in which the electric company has been run in recent years.
Davis said that since the company’s debt service is lower than it has to be and because of the successful reduction of the operating expenses in the electric department, the PSC would allow a rate reduction.
Under questioning by the council, Director of Community and Economic Development Michael Day said that the lack of equity between the electric rates was a factor in businesses considering a move into town.
“It is a deterrent,” he said.
Councilmember Troy Purnell, complimented Davis on the suggested move saying that when he came on the council he was against the town keeping the electric department but was happy with the move to begin reducing electric rates.
The cost of pursuing the case, including engineers, lawyers and other expenses could approach $135,000. The contingency fund for the electric department has $500,000 for the upcoming year and will be tapped to support the reduction.
In other business, the council allowed the Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Maryland to look into the possibility of adding an October-fest to the town calendar. The event, slated for Oct. 15, would feature a specially brewed beer for the occasion provided by Burley Oak Brewery.
Berlin is the last town in the county to approve a beer garden for a function.
Councilwoman Lisa Hall made the motion to allow the event, saying she had faith in the people running the event.
“But I don’t have faith in the beer drinkers,” Paula Lynch said before voting in ascent.