Increase in Llano utility bills deliver shock, concern

LLANO, Texas (KXAN) — Utility bills delivered in Llano this week left customers shocked, concerned, and worried about being able to make ends meet.

“It is very scary,” said Angela Lucas. “How are we going to pay this?”

Lucas said her bill was $490 in December and jumped to $861 in January. Another woman showed KXAN her bills from the last two months and how it jumped from $83 to $447. That woman said her utility bill for January is almost as much as her monthly mortgage.

“It is a community-wide issue,” said Lucas. “Everyone has been talking about their bill going up $200 or $300 or $400.”

At Logan’s Rustic Furniture, Lito Lopez saw his utility bill triple but customers have given him a deeper idea of how dire the situation could be.

“I hear a lot of moms complaining about not being able to buy food,” he said.

City Manager Brenton Lewis said a couple of different factors may be contributing to the increased charges. One of them is a $400,000 refund the city now owes the Lower Colorado River Authority after an undercharge last year.

“The LCRA did not bill us out everything they needed to bill us,” said Lewis. “We are paying back $15,000 a month for the next two years and it has been applied to everyone’s bill proportionately by usage.”

On the latest utility bills, customers found a “PCH” line item charge which accounted for much of the increase. However, Lewis said the additional line item is not an added charge, but a more accurate breakdown for customers to understand what their money pays toward. The PCH, or power charge, is the portion of the bill which goes to the LCRA to purchase the city’s power.

“Because the LCRA had to buy electricity on the market, they had to charge us additional,” Lewis said about the increased cost to the city’s nearly 1,700 utility customers. According to the LCRA, wholesale customers may pay their fuel bill in full each month, or pay an annual estimated average price, with the understanding that any overpayments will be refunded and any underpayments will be recovered in the future. Llano chose to the average price option. The LCRA  incurred higher-than-expected fuel and power costs during the last fiscal year, and began to recover those costs in July 2014 from customers that chose the average price option.

Lewis said customer consumption should be taken into account and reminded that January was a cold weather month that saw usage rise nearly 55 percent on average per customer.

“It all depends on the consumer,” added Lewis. “Whatever they use, they will be charged for. If it is a nice, mild, rest of the year, there is a good chance it will be back to normal.”

Lewis said the city utility company implemented “budget billing” last year to help customers manage their utilities. Pulling the plug on a customer is a last resort according to Lewis, who urged worried customers to approach the city to discuss payment possibilities if they are worried about paying their bills.

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