Town leaders owe residents an explanation

April 25, 2014 

Marlon Lee, elected in November, is supposed to represent East Smithfield on the Smithfield Town Council. But in a vote earlier this month, Mr. Lee turned his back on his constituents, siding instead with West Smithfield residents and the town’s affluent property owners.

Specifically, Mr. Lee, and others, voted against a motion to end the practice of transferring electric fund profits to Smithfield’s general fund. In doing so, Mr. Lee and the others passed on the chance to lower electricity rates for his constituents, many of whom are poor but living with high utility bills because their homes are not energy efficient.

Smithfield leaders can say what they want, but the reason for transferring the money is to keep the property tax artificially low. That means, of course, that electricity rates are unnecessarily high, hurting families and businesses that buy electricity from Smithfield.

Meanwhile, the beneficiaries of this practice are West Smithfield residents, who don’t have to buy Smithfield’s high-priced electricity because they buy their power from Duke Energy Progress. They do, however, enjoy property-tax bills that are lower than they should be because of the electricity-profit transfers.

Other beneficiaries include the town’s more-affluent residents, who enjoy a low property-tax rate on their energy-efficient homes.

At the Town Council’s meeting earlier this month, Councilman Perry Harris made a motion to begin winding down the transfer of electricity profits. Mr. Harris rightly notes that lower electricity rates are key to creating jobs in Smithfield and growing the tax base here. But when Mr. Harris’ motion came to a vote, only Councilman Emery Ashley supported it. Among the surprising opponents was Mayor John Lampe, who is apparently under the impression that Smithfield government has a revenue problem. But the most inexplicable “no” vote came from Mr. Lee, whose constituents stand to gain the most from ending the electricity transfers.

Mr. Lee seldom speaks at council meetings, but if he wishes, he can have space on this page to explain his vote. So can the other councilmen who voted to keep electricity rates artificially high. They can write to us at sbolejack@newsobserver.com. We think Smithfield families and business owners have a right to know why they’re paying too much for electricity.

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