A previously organized town hall meeting did not stop the Monroe County Legislature from rejecting funding for a comprehensive study to replace RG&E with a community-owned utility company.
On Tuesday night, the Monroe County Legislature rejected allocating $1 million toward funding a comprehensive study to explore the feasibility of replacing RG&E with a community-owned utility company.
The decision comes weeks after a town hall meeting organized by Monroe County residents, Metro Justice, and legislators Albert Blankley and Mercedes Vazquez Simmons to encourage legislators to move forward with an implementation study for a public takeover. However, 17 legislators opposed the study, while 12 supported it.
Metro Justice, an organization advocating for public takeover, has been actively pushing for this change due to numerous customer complaints regarding billing errors and poor customer service.
"Many people really want to study a public option to RG&E because RG&E has frankly been failing residents here for decades. Despite continued failures, they keep getting approved for double-digit rate hikes," Metro Justice's Organizing Director Mohini Sharma told 13Wham reported.
Recently, the state Public Service Commission approved a rate increase for RG&E/NYSEG, although it was only about half of what the companies initially requested. State officials argue that rate hikes are necessary to offset rising costs, including increased property taxes.
"A government-controlled utility is not what is best for Rochester. It is not in the best interest of our customers. (A takeover) is going to come with a significant price tag that's going to be passed on to the taxpayers. We want to focus on continuing to make those improvements and give customers the service they deserve," RG&E spokesperson, Alexis Arnold claimed.
During the summer, Rochester City Council pledged to contribute $500,000 towards the study, but only if Monroe County also participated in funding it. At the time, City Council President Miguel Melendez said RG&E has been besieged with customer service and billing issues for 18 months– while the Public Service Commission has yet to take action. He said locally– Rochester can look at the provision of energy and study how to best deliver that to residents.
While the county legislature may revisit the topic of public takeover in the future, Monroe County Executive Adam Bello has expressed his lack of support for the initiative. Bello argued that RG&E should focus on improving their service and addressing customer concerns. He also highlighted the complexity and financial implications of creating a public utility, including the acquisition of assets, maintenance costs, and the need for buy-in from all municipal governments in the current RG&E service area.
Bello's previous statement, “RG&E must improve their service, billing and customer issues. I have advocated for that improvement by opposing the RG&E rate increase directly with the Public Service Commission. I have also met several times with the new local management and with the CEO of AVANGRID to address the legitimate concerns of Monroe County residents. However, creating a public utility is an extremely complex issue that is beyond the scope of Monroe County. It could have billions of dollars of implications for taxpayers. RGE is the largest property tax payer in the county, contributing annual taxes north of $100 million dollars to the county, city, towns, villages and school districts. The company has $4 billion in assets that would need to be acquired, in addition to obligations for maintenance, repairs, environmental cleanups and operations of multiple gas plants and the electric power infrastructure. RGE spans 9 counties from here to the Pennsylvania border, requiring buy-in from all municipal governments in the current RGE service area in order to make any changes. For the reasons stated, I do not feel spending $1 million county taxpayer dollars on such a public utility study is warranted.”
Overall, the decision to reject funding for the study reflects the differing opinions on the best approach to address the issues with RG&E and Monroe County residents.