Mayor Tony Marquez last week promised that it’s “not in my nature” to shut off people’s natural gas during the winter.
But the mayor stopped short of saying whether the city would observe a state moratorium on winter shutoffs for the poor.
During a presentation by Utilities Director George DuFour at last week’s City Council meeting, Marquez said, “As far as turnoffs in the dead of winter, I don’t want to do that.”
“We don’t do that, sir,” DuFour said. “That was done under a previous administration.”
“Do you want to let the Optic know that?” asked Marquez, who was elected in March.
Marquez was referring to an Oct. 3 story in which the newspaper reported that the mayor wouldn’t say whether the city would observe the state moratorium on shutting off the gas to people eligible for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.
In an e-mail to the newspaper, the mayor said the city must somehow make up its losses when a portion of its customers don’t pay the total due on their heating bills. “Usually, that translates into rate hikes the following year,” Marquez wrote.
At last week’s meeting, DuFour said the city has to be humanitarian.
“We have to be able to understand our citizens and their needs. We’re not going to be cutting people off — we’re moving in a positive direction for the city and its residents,” he said.
A couple of winters ago, the city faced public wrath when it cut off natural gas to hundreds of customers, including the elderly and disabled.
Councilman Andrew Feldman told the council that his Clean and Green committee was gathering information on how people can use less energy, whether electric or natural gas.
“One of the goals of the Clean and Green committee is to educate people about how to use less energy, and we as the city should undertake that idea to educate our citizens on how to better weatherize and reduce energy usage overall, which will help save money,” Feldman said.
After the meeting, DuFour told the Optic, “We can make arrangements on any billing, whether it’s winter on not, but to the people who have a hard time paying their bills during the winter months because of the gas rates, just come to see us and we will sit down and put together a program that’s amenable to everybody and one that they can pay, but they will not be cut off.”
After the council meeting, Marquez also explained his previous e-mail to the Optic.
“I have given a written response to an inquiry by the Optic — a joint response by the staff of the City of Las Vegas. There was not a specific question,” Marquez said.
In fact, the Optic’s e-mail inquiry to the mayor included two questions: Will the city of Las Vegas adhere to the winter LIHEAP shutoff moratorium this year? Has the city distributed a LIHEAP notice to its natural gas customers, and if not, will it do so?
As with his e-mail earlier in the month, Marquez last week still wouldn’t say whether the city would follow the state moratorium.
“The Public Regulation Commission does not regulate us, and our stance is there never should be assumptions, but rather facts and the fact remains that we will not cut anyone off in the dead of winter — that’s just not in my nature,” Marquez said.
“Since we are not regulated by the PRC, I can’t change that. I can’t go above the law, so we will work with every and all gas consumers of the city of Las Vegas to educate them on the gas prices, gas charges and alternative resources to help them cut back on those expenditures,” the mayor said.
Earlier this month, state officials interviewed differed on whether the state moratorium applied to a municipal utility.
Optic’s e-mailed questions on Sept. 17 to Las Vegas Mayor Tony Marquez:
Will the city of Las Vegas adhere to the winter Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, shutoff moratorium this year? Has the city distributed a LIHEAP notice to its natural gas customers, and if not, will it do so?
Las Vegas Mayor Tony Marquez’s e-mailed response on Sept. 23:
While municipalities providing heating services are not regulated under the PRC, the city also is sensitive to the needs and financial challenges faced by our customers. That is why customers now can sign up for year-round budget billing, as well as auto withdrawal for their bills. The city also accepts payment from customers receiving help through LIHEAP. But LIHEAP amounts are usually only a fraction of what the customer may owe throughout the winter. The city, therefore, plans to be proactive in its planning for this winter.
Because my administration places a priority on citizen involvement, I think it’s important that citizens have input into any policies the council may consider in relation to winter billing and possible cutoffs. So I am turning this issue over to the Utilities Committee for review and recommendations.
Currently, the PRC regulations only cover private companies. However, the private companies, just like the city, must somehow make up their losses when a portion of their customers don’t pay the total due on their heating bills. Usually, that translates into rate hikes the following year. The city, of course, is obligated to pay for the gas that it provides its customers, and that still must be taken into consideration.