Town’s Expenses On Pending Utility Sale To Exceed $300K

BERLIN – The town of Berlin has racked up nearly $300,000
in expenses on the electric utility sale.

That amount will be higher when the contracts are signed.
Negotiations are still incomplete, and the above figure includes only the
amount of deferred legal fees to Thompson Coburn available through January.

Berlin has paid $34,266 to Thompson Coburn to date.
According to Linda Bambary, town administrative director, the deferred fees
were up to roughly $180,000 two months ago.

Payment for legal services from other firms for work on
the sale total $42,725. The appraisal of the plant and transmission system cost
$24,258, while the financial audit came in at $16,365.

The overall cost through January cannot be precisely
determined, but the current running tally is $298,434.

“The cost of negotiation is the price we have to pay to
get out from under a position we should not be in,” Council Vice President Gee
Williams said.

Negotiations are near an end, Mayor Tom Cardinale said
this week.

“I think we’ll come to a conclusion very soon,” said
Cardinale.

Negotiations have dragged on for months as the town and
the buyers, Choptank Electric Cooperative and Old Dominion Electric Cooperative
(ODEC), try to agree on the terms of the sale, an effort complicated until
earlier this month by the need to convene the entire town council for
negotiations.

At the first March town council meeting, the council voted
to establish a small subcommittee to continue negotiations. Cardinale called
the subcommittee’s work productive.

“We brought up a lot of good points,” Cardinale said of
the subcommittee’s first meeting earlier in March. “Negotiations were good. Now
the ball’s in their court.”

The mayor said the town is holding out for a contract that
is fair and beneficial to the town.

“I’m not caving in to Choptank or ODEC or anybody else
just for the sake of getting it over with,” Cardinale said. “We’ll wind up with
a good agreement or we’ll wind up with no agreement.”

That is just what some people are hoping for. Some
opponents of the sale have continued to be vocally against it, with the
controversial sale creating waves once again at this week’s Berlin meeting

Electric sale opponent Marge Coyman went on the attack at
the meeting over the extreme high cost of electricity in the town, due, she
said, to the lack of a long-term power supply agreement.

The council chose not to pursue such an agreement in the
last few years because of fears that potential buyers would not want to be
locked into that type of contract and would be discouraged.

“We have been paying inflated rates for over two, two and
a half years,” Coyman said. She added, “Berlin is paying a day to day rate, a
daily rate.”

Coyman said she has heard of many townspeople with recent
electric bills over $500.

“That’s who we’re fighting for,” said Cardinale.

“No, you’re not,” Coyman said.

She went on, “I’m not here fighting for my own pennies
because I can pay my bill.” Her own bill, Coyman said, was under $200 because
her home is designed with passive solar equipment, geothermal heat and overall
energy efficiency.

“This is not about me and my pocket book. This is about
what’s right,” she said. “It’s not right people are paying double and triple
what they should be.”

Coyman queried Williams, a strong proponent of the sale,
over his own electric supplier. Williams is one of several property owners in
Berlin who are not served by the Berlin electric utility.

The Maryland Public Service Commission establishes
electrical service areas, which do not always follow municipal boundaries. In
Berlin’s case, Delmarva Power and Choptank Electric serve some town residents,
mostly on Old Ocean City Blvd.

Berlin’s municipal electric utility also serves some
electric customers who are outside the town corporate limits.

“I will not benefit one bit from the lower rate,” said
Williams.

The sale of the electric utility is intended, in part, to
lower costs for municipal customers.

“You are not paying but I am and he is and she is,” Coyman
said. She added, “I suspect your electric bill was a whole lot less.”

Williams said his most recent electric bill is the highest
in his life, more than $500.

The sale is a permanent solution, he said, while a power
agreement is a temporary one.

“Personally, I am working with the Mayor and Council to
find a permanent solution that will benefit Berlin Electric ratepayers with
lower electric bills, in both the immediate future and long term,” Williams
said later.

Coyman said that the electric utility should be kept, with
new people brought in to run it like a business.

“No one sells a utility company. This is amazing,” Coyman
said. “You people have no idea what you’re doing to this town.”

The town cannot simply walk away from negotiations, according
to town officials, having signed a letter of intent to sell the transmission
network to Choptank Electric and the power plant to Old Dominion Electric
Cooperative.

 

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