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Claremore Residents Frustrated Over High Electricity Bills

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CLAREMORE, Oklahoma -

A $700 electric bill. What would you do? That is the reality of some Claremore residents.

They have been fighting the city for two years now, demanding answers and lower utility bills. So far, city officials have given the same answer, “our numbers don’t lie.”

In Claremore, the electric, trash, sewage and water are all billed together. Deputy Public Works Director Larry Hughes calls the billing system a “one-stop shop,” and said the billing process is easier on the city and on the people that live there.

In 2015, the city replaced old meters with a new AMI system from GE. The system allows city officials to get meter data through radio waves so that no one has to go out on foot and manually check each meter.

But, some residents say the new digital meters make it harder to hold the city accountable for utility charges. City officials say that’s just not the case, “the average Utility bill for 2016 residents was $180.00. The average Utility bill for 2013 (before the digital meters were installed) was $156.00.”

Scott Dunham, an eight-year Claremore resident, opened the mail this month to a $352 utility bill; other residents are seeing high bills as well. Shelly Taylor said her utility bill was over $700 this month, and on a Facebook page for Claremore residents, over 63 locals voiced concerns about high electric bills in the city. 

“Somebody is getting extra money somewhere,” said Dunham.

Hughes agrees that some of the bills for residents in Claremore are extremely high, but, he said, “we do not do anything about how the person consumes their water and electric in their home.”

And as far as Dunham’s claim that the city’s residents are being charged more than their utility costs, Hughes said officials are just doing their jobs, “we are strictly just pulling the information off the computer, we are billing for it, collecting the money and moving forward.”

City Utility Officials said the only set fees that residents are charged each month are a $14.00 sanitation charge, a $2.50 stormwater charge and a $21.50 service fee for water and electric. All other charges, they say, are brought on by the consumer.

But for Dunham, the numbers just aren’t adding up, “Especially with our weather not being as bad in the last year. I don’t feel like we should have these high utility rates.”

Hughes said the city has offered to help each resident that comes to them with concerns. He said the city offers a free audit so that the city can help customers find out what they can change to lower their electric and water usage through the month.

He said the city has also offered a breakdown of each customer’s bill. The GE system allows city officials to view a customer’s usage by hour and, sometimes, by 15-minute intervals. Hughes said many residents have refused the city’s help. In fact, he said only 100 people in the last three years have asked for an audit from the city.

“We can’t force customers to us for us to help them, they gotta want to work with us or it’s just not gonna work out,” said Hughes. “I just wish they would step in with an open mind and actually look at all the information that is available to them.”

But Dunham said he asked the city to provide a breakdown of his bill and they never did, “we were supposed to have a portal that showed us what those meters did on a 15-minute interval throughout the day, and, to this point, we still can’t see what those readings are.”

Hughes said that is just not true, “we are here to help our customers, whether they choose to believe in that or not is another story.”

Dunham said the fight to lower utility costs has been hard on the many people of Claremore, "you just get stuck in a situation where you feel out of any control to do anything...I might be able to deal with it, and I can work harder and get some extra hours, but not everyone can."

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