CONNIE SWINNEY • PICAYUNE STAFF
LLANO — When Kim Thomas received her latest electric bill, she was shocked to see it was $200 more than the previous month.
“It was such a big spike. There’s absolutely no way my usage doubled in one month,” said Thomas, the owner of Junk Sisters, 507 Bessemer Ave. “I love Llano. It’s a great town, but they really need to take control of this.”
Thomas is one of several residents reporting such increases on their winter electric bills. The city has a wholesale contract with the Lower Colorado River Authority to provide power to 1,700 customers.
“There are a lot of people in Llano with a fixed income. They’ll have to pick between utilities and food,” Thomas said. “How are they going to get by? That’s what’s scary.”
City Manager Brenton Lewis said as soon as customers started receiving their February bills, city hall workers began fielding a number of complaints and calls with questions.
The latest bills reflected the billing cycle from mid-December to mid-January.
The city charges its own fee on top of a so-called wholesale power cost fee from the LCRA.
“Our bills have shown about a 55 percent increase above what the billing was for November and December of last year,” Lewis said. “We also had to have a $15,000 per-month additional charge on our wholesale bill where (the LCRA) undercharged us the previous year.”
The share per customer varies by kilowatt-hour usage and energy efficiency within individual homes.
“The citizens have to pay that, and that’s for two years,” Lewis said.
Another new feature on the bill that alarmed customers involved a change in posting of a line item to separate the city’s fee from the LCRA wholesale fee.
“When customers saw that, they thought we put an actual additional charge on their bill,” Lewis said. “We wanted to break out the electric charges so customers would actually realize what stayed within the city of Llano and what we had to pay out for (LCRA) wholesale cost.”
Customers also face an additional re-read fee if they request the city confirm the reading on their meter, he said.
The weather conditions compared to the same time last year might have contributed to higher bills, Lewis added.
In late 2013 to early 2014, the average high temperature from December to January was 69 degrees, while the average low was reported at 44 degrees.
In late 2014 to early 2015, the average high was 56 degrees with the average low in the mid-30s.
“It also stems back to what the weather pattern was,” he said. “That causes people to use their heating system more than they would have in the previous (winter) months.”
Thomas, who moved her shop a year ago from Burnet to Llano, said she believes the blame rests with the city of Llano.
“I would like for them to be honest about the bills instead of saying it was just usage. If they want to make the people in Llano pay for LCRA’s mistake, then why don’t they just say, ‘We’re adding this to your bill,’” she said. “If they would have put something on the (previous) bill saying, ‘Be prepared,’ it wouldn’t have been such a shocker.”
Thomas said she initially moved her business to Llano to take advantage of the various festivals, community events and the vintage shopping attractions to boost her sales potential.
“It’s going to hurt in the long run. People aren’t going to want to do business in Llano,” she said. “It’s going to slow down my business if I have to charge more to make up for my utilities.”