FOUNTAIN, N.C. (WNCT) — Residents in the Town of Fountain are shocked by high electric bills in the past few months. Jumping from $400 to $600 to nearly $900 for some residents in the month of August, they’re worried they won’t be able to afford those bills.

The town says rates did increase for customers over the last year, a 4.99% increase for electricity, an 8% increase for water, and a 5% increase for sewage, all of which are purchased from other towns and counties in the area. But the town says those increases aren’t the cause of higher bills, town officials say older homes and window air-conditioning units are to blame. A statement from Fountain officials said, “July, August, and September are our peak summer months, utility bills on average are higher during these months. Some of our customer’s kilowatt per hour usages almost doubled from their previous month’s readings.”

We spoke to two residents who say they know of at least 15 others experiencing similar bill increases.

“It started off with maybe like a $50, $60 increase, and you’re like ‘OK, maybe it’s just because it’s hot.’ And then it went from like $50, $60 to like $120. Now it’s like over $200, $300, and it just keeps going up, keeps going up, it’s crazy,” one resident told WNCT.

She told WNCT her bill was around $520, where it normally sits anywhere from $240 to $280, she said.

Another resident’s bill is nearly $900. Her home utility bill for July was $672.87. For the month of August, that bill is $881.86.

The residents we spoke to say they don’t agree with the town’s assessment. They’ve lived in these homes for 4-5 years with no similar increases or drastic lifestyle changes. They’re trying everything to minimize that bill.

One resident said, “I mean I keep everything off. The only thing that runs in my house is literally my air conditioner, my refrigerator and my freezer. Other than that, nothing at all. We take the same amount of showers, we wear the same amount of clothes. When we go to the town they’re like, ‘Oh well, you’re taking showers.’ OK, we take the same amount of showers, you know, and they’re like, ‘Well, it’s hot.”

One resident has begun making small payments on the bill. Both say they are nervous for the next bill to arrive.

“At the end of the day, I mean, you’re not going to get no more than what you bring home last month or another month when you’re on a fixed income. But then when your bills are more than $200, $300 more than what you expected, it’s like ‘What am I supposed to do?’ So yeah, it’s like, you’ve got to sacrifice this, or you’re going to be sitting without power.”

Town of Fountain resident

The town says they are members of Electricities, who offer energy audits to customers, something the town says they would be glad to help residents set up.

Full statement from the Town of Fountain:

“Town of Fountain purchases electricity from Pitt & Greene, EMC, who increased the town’s purchase price by 4.99%, which came into effect November 2021. Town of Fountain had no choice but to pass the increase to our customers beginning July 1, 2022. Our last electric increase was July 1, 2009, but as we all know the price of fuel, groceries and supplies have increased unfortunately. Electric collections not only pay for the electricity but also pays a portion of employee salaries, electrical supplies, equipment as well as repairs and maintenance and vehicle fuel and maintenance. 

July, August and September are our peak summer months then December, January and February for winter months. Those are normally the hottest and coldest months of the year. Utility bills on average are higher during these months. This month there were 35 days on the September utility bills. We were a couple days behind because of how our reading dates fell over a weekend. Our August billing is readings from mid-June to mid-July and September billing are from mid-July to mid-August which were our hottest months. From July to August the weather was dry, humid and hot with heat indexes above 100 degrees. Some of our customers kilowatt per hour usages almost doubled from their previous month’s readings. 

Even though we don’t do anything different with our inside temperature settings the air conditioners are working harder to keep the inside temperatures the same. In our town there are a lot of older homes which do not have good insulation, do not have energy efficient windows and doors and some do not have central air or heat, which leaves customers to rely on window air conditioning units and winter electric heaters which use a lot of electricity. A room unit air conditioner can cost approximately $27.00 per month and an electric 1500-watt space heater could cost approximately $45.00 per month. We recommend our customers to set their thermostats between 76-78 degrees while home and higher when no one is home, a programmable thermostat would be helpful with this, and use a ceiling fan or a floor fan in the room that occupied, it makes you feel cooler and keeps the air circulating. Keeping curtains, blinds and blackout curtains closed during the day when the sun is shining helps tremendously at keeping the heat out. 

Utility customers have a tendency to compare their utility bills to their neighbor’s or friends’ and families in another town. This is not a good practice because even if one customer’s house is bigger with a lower bill that house maybe newer, with better insulation, energy efficient windows, newer energy efficient appliances, heating and air units or even less people in a house. Someone who has older hot water heaters can use a significant amount of electricity. If comparing to other utility bills, do they have the same services as you. Town of Fountain bills are for electricity, water, sewer, trash for some and some have area lights, so a customer’s full utility bill total can’t be compared if they don’t pay for the same services. Other things to consider is how many people live in the house, how many are home during the day, how many cell phone chargers, laptops, televisions or video games are plugged in. Even if these items are not being used or being charged up as long as the charges are plugged in the wall its still using some electricity. If you have a swimming pool that is pumping to keep the water clean it is costing approximately $84.00 a month or maybe you have a golf cart that is on charge when not in use. There are so many factors that could cause your utility bill to be higher than your neighbors or someone who lives in another area or town. 

Town of Fountain’s purchase price of water also increased by 14%, the town passed on an 8% increase to our customers. Town of Fountain purchases water from Town of Farmville. Water usage on average for 1 person uses 1-2000 gallons of water a month per person. Usage also depends on if you water flowers, water a garden or irrigate your lawn, do you have pipes/hoses that are dripping/leaking and a very common culprit of high-water usage is a bathroom toilet that runs constantly or you hear it swishing from time to time from a slow leak and the tank is having to refill, which are very costly, its much cheaper to have them repaired. Town of Fountain distributes sewer to Town of Farmville who increases their rate to us by 5% which we passed on to our customers. Sewer usage is calculated by water usage readings. Even though Town of Fountain had increases to utilities this budget beginning July 1, 2022 it did not drastically increase customers utility bill, it was the kilowatt usage of electricity. 

Town of Fountain are members of Electricities who offer Energy Audits to residents of member cities. They offer energy education to energy saving programs and resources to help people lower their home energy bills. Energy Auditors visit homes and provide guidance on ways to cut energy costs. Town of Fountain would be glad to help our customers set up an energy audit through Electricities.”

Leigh Hines – Town Clerk/Finance Officer, Town of Fountain