Sherwood City Clerk Angela Nicholson confirmed Friday that a citizen group that has been trying to garner enough signatures to put the North Little Rock Electric ordinance to a public vote has met the minimum number, which means the ordinance will be put before Sherwood voters.
“I am now waiting on what to do next with Steve Cobb,” said Nicholson. “He will let me know where we go from here.”
Citizens of Sherwood Together (COST) Chairman Don Berry said he delivered an additional 266 signatures Monday morning, bringing the total number of signatures believed to be valid at 1,585. Berry said COST has delivered more signatures but some were rejected.
“Over 1700 total signatures have been presented since the beginning,” Berry said.
Before last week, COST had garnered 1,162 valid signatures, according to Berry. Hundreds more had been turned in earlier this month but 299 had been invalidated by the city clerk’s office. Of the 299 that were invalidated, 122 were later deemed to be valid, he said.
Berry said signatures turned in Monday had Pulaski County voter registration forms attached to each of the packets.
“We wanted to move forward in the morning in case there was any inclement weather in the afternoon,” Berry said. “We wanted to be proactive.”
While the future of the North Little Rock Electric ordinance will be before voters, the public relations war to win the hearts of Sherwood voters has begun.
Earlier this month, North Little Rock Electric customers in Sherwood received a letter from their electric department discouraging them from supporting any public vote that would give them electric service from any other utility.
Interim North Little Rock Electric General Manager Jason Carter wrote the letter.
“Sherwood customers, during the recent snowstorm, we are proud to say that our line crews were the first to respond when the outages started and the first to complete reconnecting our customers. We are pleased to tell you that North Little Rock Electric has no plans to pass along storm restoration costs to our customers, unlike other utilities serving our area,” Carter wrote.
Carter’s letter then talks about COST’s petition drive.
“While our crews were out working, some of your neighbors circulated a petition to refer our recent contract with Sherwood to a vote of the people. You may have signed it. We appreciate those who expressed concern about the process of securing electricity for our Sherwood customers and support the right of the people to have a say in government,” continued Carter.
Carter said the cost of placing the issue on a special Sherwood ballot would cost its city $25,000.
Carter said the Sherwood City Council and an appointed Citizens Committee went through an extensive process to compare and contrast our financial proposal and service record with those of other bidders. “You’ll find attached some of the reasons your representatives believe North Little Rock Electric is the best solution for Sherwood,” Carter said. “If you signed the petition, please reconsider your support of it. I encourage you to contact your City Council Members to express your desire to withdraw your name from the petition.”
Carter added, “Let your voice be heard before a multi-million dollar mistake is made.”
Carter listed several reasons why Sherwood customers should stay with North Little Rock Electric, which he listed:
1. Staying with it keeps Sherwood on budget.
In addition to the $25,000 cost of a referendum election, Sherwood’s general fund budget would be reduced by over $470,000 beginning in 2013 by losing North Little Rock Electric.
“Other bidders were not able to match this offer,” Carter said. “Over the duration of the agreement these payments to the City of Sherwood will total more than $11 million.
Sherwood does not need to lose this revenue. Because they are generated by operational efficiencies, North Little Rock Electric’s proposal does not pass the costs for these payments to our customers.”
2. Staying with North Little Rock Electric avoids unnecessary expense.
“Moving from North Little Rock Electric to another provider will cost an estimated $20 million in acquisition and construction of electric distribution infrastructure. By staying with North Little Rock Electric, this entire cost is avoided,” according to Carter.
3. Staying with North Little Rock Electric gives Sherwood customers a greater voice in policies and operations.
“Sherwood customers have the right to be heard whenever North Little Rock Electric’s governing body convenes,” said Carter. “No other utility offers this level of transparency and customer service.”
4. Staying with North Little Rock Electric will mean having low-cost electricity for the next 20 years.
“Our rates have trended downward over the past four years and will continue that trend in the future, even while other utilities discuss rate increases,” said Carter. “These are just a few of the key points from the proposal accepted by the Sherwood City Council. Let your City Council Members know if you are against this referendum.”