MUC will not raise rates despite TVA increase

Posted on Saturday, August 30, 2014 at 11:24 pm

Despite the Tennessee Valley Authority announcing a rate increase on Aug. 21, Morristown Utility Systems will not raise its rates, according to MUS General Manager Jody Wigington.

As part of his remarks during the utility’s regular reporting meeting to the Morristown Utilities Commission on Aug. 28, Wigington said the TVA increase of 1.5 percent will be effective Oct. 1 and is considered by MUS as a pass through increase, meaning the utility will absorb the extra cost.

“We will not add this increase to our customer billing,” Wigington said.

With regard to recent local television coverage of the utility’s spending, Wigington recommended to the five commissioners, including newly appointed board member Rod Isaacs, that no significant changes be made with regard to the use of company credit cards.

The use of cards began in 1998, according to Wigington, as a means of making the company’s accounting and purchasing systems more efficient. The usage was expanded in 2004, adding online monitoring by supervisors. After an internal investigation, Wigington said no inappropriate purchases by employees were discovered.

“It’s an online world today,” Wigington said.

He said cards remain the best way to account for expenses and software improvements have made for better monitoring, greater accountability for supervisor control.

Referring to the television station’s posting of requested copies of MUS receipts on its website, Wigington said the company will instruct employees to write notes of explanation, or purchase details, on the front of the receipts.

“The practice has been to write on the back of the receipts, where there is more room,” MUS Assistant General Manager Clark Rucker said. “We still do that, but you want to write on the front as well so that it can’t be misrepresented going forward.”

Wigington also defended the utility’s practice of rewarding its employees with an appreciation breakfast in December that has taken place since the 1980s, as well as the annual banquet that includes utility employees and their families.

Historically, gift cards were presented to employees as service awards. Safety presentations are also a part of the celebrations.

“We don’t do bonuses, so that’s our way to show appreciation for their service,” Wigington said.

The venues have varied from Best Western and Rose Center to Fred Miller Park to Dollywood and the Smokies’ field in Kodak, with the service awards and door prizes considered part of the budget, which has fluctuated from $25,000 to $35,000, or .03 percent of the utility’s annual budget.

“We still believe that’s an important time of recognition for the employees and it builds moral,” Wigington said. “It brings all the divisions into one place a couple of times of a year and it fosters unity for the organization. It’s a tradition that many utilities have — we think it’s worth the investment and valuable.”

Wigington said the distribution of gift cards of small monetary value to each employee during the 2013 banquet was a one-time practice that resulted from cost savings on the venue and the food.

Commission board members recommended that a limited number of door prizes be offered at future banquets and that the banquets should be held in Morristown.

Wigington agreed, citing that the increase in the number of employees, due in part to the new wastewater division, could create a challenge in finding an available local venue that could hold the entire group.

“We have held them outdoors in the past,” he said. “We may try that again.”

-By Glenna Howington, Tribune Staff Writer

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