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City Light profits shifted

November 18, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

For the fourth consecutive year, the Hagerstown City Council is expected to move a $400,000 surplus from the City Light Department into a fund that has paid for a variety of projects, including a baseball stadium study and creation of a revolving loan fund for businesses.

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The council will likely approve the transfer Tuesday, bringing to $1.6 million the total surplus moved from the Light Department into the Community Betterment Fund since 1997.

The money comes from profits the Light Department makes from its 17,150 customers.

City officials could cut electric rates or rebate the surplus to customers, but they have opted to shift the money into another account to help pay for projects some say may not have been completed without a tax hike.

Councilman William M. Breichner, who was on the council when the fund was established, said the idea behind the transfer was that private electric companies pay a dividend to their stockholders "and why shouldn't City Light do the same?"

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Breichner said he initially opposed the transfer, saying the city should have cut electric rates instead.

However, he said, "This was a way to avoid the problem of raising taxes."

Breichner said he did work to get some strings attached to fund.

They include an annual analysis to show the Light Department can afford the transfer, a cap of $400,000 a year and a stipulation that money transferred one year can't be spent until the following year.

Breichner said he would vote again Tuesday to transfer the money.

Councilmen Alfred W. Boyer and Lewis C. Metzner said they also would support the transfer.

The Community Betterment Fund has paid for, or is expected to fund, $114,600 for the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex, $25,000 for a Civil War museum study, $300,000 for improvements at the Fairgrounds Park, $50,000 for a stadium study, and $250,000 for the revolving loan fund.

Breichner said customers would see a very small amount of money if the surplus were to be rebated.

Light Department Manager Terry Weaver said it would be hard to say exactly how much each customer would get because different rates are charged to residential, commercial and industrial customers.

Weaver noted that City Light customers pay some of the lowest rates in the area.

A city survey showed its customers pay about $11 less per month than they would if they bought electricity from Allegheny Power, according to a city survey.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure said the policy probably deserves a closer look.

"But if you give the money back to the users you'd have to find money (from elsewhere). It might have to come from taxes," McClure said.

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