‘Village’ sees jump in utility costs

FAIRMONT — The Fairmont Housing and Redevelopment Authority on Monday learned of the increasing utility costs at Friendship Village.

Although there has been no electric rate increase, the budget utility costs have increased to $15,100 each month, a $1,200 jump per billing cycle. Utility costs for each of the 115 units are paid by Friendship Village with funds from Housing and Urban Development.

“It’s not the water usage going up. It’s on the electric side,” said Gail Diede, executive director at Friendship Village. “For each unit, the average cost is $132 a month. That’s high.”

So far, the highest bill was almost $22,300 for January to February, and Diede points to several different factors that could be driving up the electric bill. Some residents have lighted decorations up all year long. Some open their patio doors during the winter if they get too warm, spiking the usage of the electric heat. Likewise in the summer, patio doors are open even if the air conditioner is running.

Residents pay an additional monthly cost of $3 if they have a freezer or an extra refrigerator. Likewise, there is an additional $6 monthly charge during the winter months for those who plug in their cars. Units with an air conditioner pay $15 per month from May through September.

Even with these additional charges, board members agreed the constantly increasing costs are not sustainable. They directed Diede to check with HUD on the feasibility of an energy surcharge for the residents.

“Let’s ask to see if that’s allowed to happen. If not, we’ll have to come up with another plan,” said board member Lisa Olson.

Turning to another matter, a national HUD directive mandating all public housing properties to be smoke free has been accepted by the majority of Friendship Village residents, but there are still a few violators.

“I can go in a unit and can’t see it (smoke), but I can smell it,” Diede said. “I’d say 75 percent are following the rules.”

“We know who the offenders are. Still we have to catch them, but we don’t want to turn neighbor against neighbor,” said Trina Krzywozycki, resident board member.

Diede mentioned possibly imposing a fine of $100 or more if there is a violation. Not only is smoking in the units or within 25 feet of the units against HUD regulations, the cost of turning over a unit that housed a smoker is expensive and time-consuming, often requiring washing the walls several times and using more expensive paint.

The board instructed Diede to research the availability of smoke monitors that would register if there is a violation.

In other business, the HRA increased the cable charge by $1 per month, bringing the bill for each resident to $18 per month.