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1% fee could go away faster than 30 years

By Holly Hollman 340-2445

ATHENS — Hey, Athens Utilities customers, remember what that 1 percent fee on the monthly utility bill is for?

The Limestone County Commission imposed the electric use fee in 2001 to pay off a new jail and courthouse annex.

The amount the county is collecting is increasing each
year, according to Electric Department Manager Gary Scroggins.

That's because the county's population is growing, adding more customers, Scroggins told the Athens City Council on Monday during his budget hearing.

"The county has gained $200,000 a year since it started collecting," Scroggins said.

Change in sales

When the fee started, the Electric Department was selling $50 million worth of electricity. Now it is selling about $70 million.

Mayor Dan Williams said he'd be interested in knowing where the county's additional money is going.

Williams spoke in opposition to the fee in 2001.

Commission Chairman David Seibert said the money still is paying the debt on the jail.

Construction of the jail cost $8.7 million. A federal judge mandated the county construct it for the safety of prisoners and staff. The old jail was overcrowded.

To help fund the federal mandate, the commission sought state Legislative approval for an electric use fee.

Stanley Menefee, who was commission chairman when the county imposed the fee, said the county can use the money only to pay the debt on the jail and new Clinton Street Courthouse Annex. The annex cost was $4.4 million.

Menefee said the county had the option of going up to 2 percent, but he argued against it.

"My argument for staying with 1 percent was that growth would fuel the money needed
to pay off the debt," Menefee said.

"We did the jail bond for 30 years, but with the growth, we'll probably get it paid off in 20 years."

Menefee said once the county pays the debt on the two buildings, it must remove the fee.

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