As a retired math teacher, FACES Chairwoman Beverly Williams developed the talent of helping students learn to do the dredged word problem, usually seen as the caster oil of school mathematics classrooms. Now perhaps her most difficult ‘word problem’ is to try and detail to the voters of Sherwood a very difficult, complicated, technical word problem that is not easily explainable in a few minutes. Perhaps the word problem could go something like this:
The voters of Sherwood go to the polls on May 14 to decide the fate of the 7,000 households who now get their utility service from North Little Rock Electric. If eventually the city would pick another utility other than NLR Electric, how does she explain her contention that higher utility bills and a reduced city tax base probably will be facing many Sherwood residents in the future?
"Up until now, there has been so much emotion driving this and not enough looking at the facts," said Williams, who has been spending weeks talking with officials of the three utility companies of NLR Electric, First Electric Coop, and Entergy, besides the Arkansas Public Utilities Commission.
For weeks, Williams has been doing research, trying to get the facts on which of the three utilities, according to the analysis done by FACES, would be best for Sherwood.
Williams said he truly believes the 7,000 households as well as residents in the rest of Sherwood would be better served if the status quo were maintained.
Williams said there have been some facts that have not come out yet in the electric debate.
First, a well-quoted fact is that Entergy has cheaper electric rates at the present time than North Little Rock Electric, through NLR Electric’s rates have been on the decline.
However, after examining the bills from Entergy and meeting with Entergy personnel recently, she has determined that the electric bills between the two utilities are not very much different after a bill examination looks at the riders each utility adds to their bills.
Williams said North Little Rock has two riders, while Entergy has nine riders. In addition, about half of the Entergy riders are printed on the bills while the other half are not recorded on their bills.
"I told them (Entergy) I am a retired math teacher and this makes no sense to me," Williams said. "These bills are confusing."
Besides the cost savings not being that great after all riders are considered, the potential savings of jumping onto either the Entergy or First Electric Coop bandwagon would be reduced even more or possibly eliminated after between $10-$20 million in infrastructure investments would have to be made by either First Electric or Entergy if they took NLR Electric’s place.
There are some areas of Sherwood where North Little Rock Electric’s infrastructure goes back and forth from Sherwood to North Little Rock, and vice versa.
In some areas, new lines and substations would need to be built and someone is going to have to pay that cost.
Williams said she talked with officials from the Arkansas Public Utilities Commission, pressing them for answers about whom and how much would they pay for the millions of infrastructure dollars.
Williams said she is fully convinced that Sherwood residents would pay a "disproportionate amount" of whatever the final bill would be for a new utility company to service the area of town new in the territory of NLR Electric.
"I do not believe it would be the same cost to all the customers of the other companies," Williams said.
In addition, besides current NLR Electric customers paying a disproportionate amount of the cost, Sherwood residents currently served by either Entergy or First Electric Coop would have to shoulder a disproportionate amount of those costs even though they would not derive any benefit from the new infrastructure, said Williams.
Williams concludes that after the infrastructure costs are added to the riders, she questions if there would be any savings.
Williams added the body that would make that decision would be the Arkansas Public Service Commission.
"Would it really be fair to residents far away from Sherwood to have to pay much more on their bills? That would be the question the Public Service Commission would have to determine."
Another loss to Sherwood residents outside of the current NLR Electric service area would be the decreased tax base. NLR Electric pays an annual tariff to Sherwood’s general fund of $475,000, which is used to provide municipal services such as police protection to all areas of the city.
Williams said city residents outside of the NLR Electric territory would gain no benefit for themselves if NLR were removed from Sherwood. In fact, it will cost them money in terms of a smaller tax base and/or potentially higher electric bills themselves due to the infrastructure issue that would be decided by the Arkansas PCS.
Williams said if city voters overturn the city’s council’s vote on May 14, she believes eventually there will be buyer’s regret for many of the people who voted against North Little Rock Electric.
One person who would regret such a decision would be Williams, who wants to keep being served to NLR Electric.
"There just isn’t any benefit to me and my household when you look at the facts," Williams said.