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AUDITOR REPORTS THAT MUNICIPAL UTILITY HAS SAVED RESIDENTS 9% ON GAS BILLS

An independent auditor reported Tuesday that the Sloan-Hamburg municipal utility saved Sloan residents an average of 9 percent on their annual bills for natural gas.

Chuck Hunt, an energy consultant, reviewed his audit process and the results to residents and board members during a special session of the Municipal Utility Board.

Issues had been raised about the accuracy of the gas utility's savings, which has become one of the focal points of this year's village election.

"Did every resident save something? Yes -- not $78, but they did save something," Hunt told Joseph Farris, a candidate for trustee. "Overall, the village did a great job for its residents."

Trustee Dean Lach, a mayoral candidate who is a critic of the utility operation, questioned the village's need for the 1.5 percent administrative fee that customers pay. He also questioned how the village would pay Powers Alternative, the village's consulting firm, when the utility's surplus totaled only $4,000.

"They haven't sent us a bill," Mayor Kenneth Pokorski said. "When they send us bill, we'll pay them. The money is in the bank account."

Pokorski estimated the consultant's annual fee, which is based on a percentage of the annual savings, at $6,000. The administrative fee can be used for a number of items, including bad debts. All fees are included in the cost that customers pay.

As Lach continued to question the validity of the program, saying that some revenue numbers did not match in two different reports, the mayor said: "If you want to taint something, taint yourself or something else. This program is saving money."

Lach maintained that information continues to be withheld from him even though he is a board member. He also said the audit report did not include a breakdown of administrative fees.

It was revealed that Texaco provides the village with a management function by determining the cost of gas plus fees that residents should pay. National Fuel continues to oversee all repairs, meter reading and billing for the municipal utility.

Hunt, who has 36 years' experience in the gas utility industry, was recommended for the audit by Texaco.

The municipal utility has about 900 customers in Sloan. The audit based the 9 percent average savings on 662 homeowners who were customers for 12 consecutive months.

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