With a trio of rate increases awaiting approval this week by the Hannibal Board of Public Works board, an outspoken figure from Hannibal’s political past raised questions about the utility at Tuesday’s Hannibal City Council meeting.
Former Mayor John Lyng spoke briefly to the council at the outset of Tuesday’s meeting, asking the council to take steps to “gain some accountability for the Hannibal Board of Public Works to the citizens who own those public utilities.”
Lyng, who served as mayor in the early 1980s, said the customary public hearing on rate increases that will be held Thursday evening, just before the BPW board votes on those increases, has become a formality. He called for “some second level of approval of rate increases,” with electoral accountability; the BPW board is appointed.
“And yeah, I’m looking at you fellows,” Lyng told the council.
The rate increases set for a vote Thursday include a 5 percent residential-only hike in electric rates, 8 percent for sewer and 10 percent for water. In total, the three are expected to add $10 to the average monthly utility bill.
Lyng criticized the minimum customer charge in all three divisions, which also is expected to rise. However, he said the hike in electric usage rates, in particular, comes at a time when wholesale power costs are dropping for the city. He likened the residential-only increase to Ford hypothetically raising prices on cars only for its own stockholders.
The former mayor also called for the council to write into the city charter owner approval — that is, voter approval — of financial borrowing and major investments. The latter was a jab at the massive Prairie State Energy Campus in southern Illinois, of which the BPW is a part owner through the Missouri Public Utility Alliance; the plant has yet to begin generating power and revenue, but the BPW already is paying for its construction to the tune of $300,000 a month. (Note that all MPUA member cities have some financial skin in the plant as members of that organization.)
Although the BPW is considered part of city government, its operations traditionally have been fairly detached from City Hall. Lyng said the council should be doing more to hold the BPW accountable.
BPW General Manager Bob Stevenson and Board President Randy Park were in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting, but did not speak or offer a response to Lyng’s comments.
The council took no action with regard to the former mayor’s remarks, but Fourth Ward Councilman Barry Louderman acknowledged that the council and utility have had a “tenuous” relationship through the years.
This isn’t the first time a Lyng has called for BPW reforms in recent years. His son, former Sixth Ward Councilman Jeff Lyng, was similarly outspoken about the utility.