Johnstown mulls energy-savings effort

JOHNSTOWN – For the second time in two years, the city has agreed to hire an energy consultant to review its utility and telecommunications accounts in hopes of finding untapped refunds, billing errors and overpayments.

The Common Council on Tuesday approved resolutions to enter agreements with Buffalo-based Troy & Banks, which will audit or survey the city’s electric, natural gas, phone and Internet bills “for the purpose of securing refunds, credits and cost reductions resulting from discovery of charges or costs in excess of those permitted,” according to the agreement.

The company will review “applicable contracts, tariffs, statuses, rules and regulations” as well as overcharges and billing errors, the agreement says. It also will audit the city’s gross receipt tax, which is collected by natural gas and electric utilities, ensuring the city has received the amount it’s due.

“They go through all the records and see if there’s inappropriate billing, and if there is, they get a portion of it, and then the city can make the adjustment,” Mayor Sarah Slingerland said, noting there is no initial cost to the city.

Troy & Banks will keep 25 percent of uncollected gross receipt taxes and will receive 20 to 25 percent of telecommunications savings, according to the agreement. If the consultant finds errors resulting in future savings, the city will be required to pay 25 percent of the amount saved for two years, according to the agreement.

The city undertook a similar review in 2011, but the amount of money recovered was not immediately available, and officials did not know what potential savings were available this time.

“It could be a dollar, it could be a million,” city Treasurer Michael Gifford said, speaking hypothetically. “But the whole thing is we’re not paying someone a fee to do this.”

Johnstown will put any new revenue from the audit to its general fund.

A Troy & Banks review of electric bills in Gloversville in 2011 recovered $82,300 in overcharges, city Finance Commissioner Bruce VanGenderen said this morning, and the city expects to soon contract with the company to collect gross receipts and franchise fees. Mayor Dayton King said using the company is a no-brainer for any city.

“It’s a good company with a good reputation,” he said. “You can easily save tens of thousands of dollars.”

A previous Troy & Banks energy audit resulted in the city shutting off and uninstalling streetlights and saving about $37,000, 2nd Ward Councilman Chris Foss said. But over his objection, the council on Tuesday reversed one of those shutoffs, agreeing to install a light on East Clinton Street, near the Church of the Holy Spirit.

“It’s dark and dangerous and a little scary,” 1st Ward Councilwoman Cynthia Lakata said. Third Ward Councilwoman Helen Martin said the distance between streetlights creates dark pockets. Both supported the measure, along with Councilman-At-Large Bryan Marcucci. Fourth Ward Councilwoman Kay Cole was not at the meeting.

“I think the city has an obligation to make the streets safe, but not necessarily to make them look like somebody’s living room,” Foss said. “There’s going to be dark areas no matter what you do.”

The city will pay $150 per year to cover installation and maintenance, as well as about $650 a year in electricity costs.

The city also will look into installation of a streetlight in a city-owned parking lot behind the north side of West Main Street, between North Perry and North Market streets. Officials think the council approved reinstalling a light there more than two years ago, but National Grid was never notified.