12/20/13 7:00am
12/20/2013 7:00 AM

CYNDI MURRAY FILE PHOTO |

The phones at Greenport Village Hall have been ringing off the hook this holiday season with angry residents wondering why the purchased power adjustment line on their electric bills has more than doubled since summer and has far exceeded the increase village officials warned of in August. And so far, some villagers are saying, answers have been hard to come by.

A letter to residents dated Aug. 14 stated village electric customers would begin paying between $7.75 and $10.69 more in PPA charges per month moving forward. The additional fee was needed to cover a hike in the village’s new long-term transmission agreement with the New York Power Authority, which transmits hydropower generated in Niagara Falls to Greenport, according to Mayor David Nyce.

The mayor said the new 28-month agreement with NYPA would stabilize rates for the foreseeable future. While base rates for electric service would remain the same, the increase would be listed under the Purchased Power Adjustment line, Mr. Nyce said.

EDITORIAL: Greenport residents deserve an answer

Residents who have continued to pay attention to the PPA line say the dollar amount this month escalated beyond the amount village officials had specified in August.

After receiving emails and calls about the issue, The Suffolk Times asked several Greenport residents to produce copies of their recent electric bills. Two sources, one who wrote to the newspaper and another who was approached by a reporter, sent in their three most recent bills. An examination of those monthly statements shows the PPA rate per unit of electricity consumed, which is not specified on the bill, has risen from 1.68 cents on bills due in October to 7.89 cents per unit in the most recent statements.

PPA charges increased even when usage declined from the previous month. Although one customer’s usage dropped significantly from November to December, for example, the dollar amount she was charged in PPA fees nearly doubled from $38.96 in the previous billing cycle to $77.92 in the most recent statement.

In a telephone interview last week, Mr. Nyce said the large increase under the PPA line in December was due to a one-time service fee and that rates would return to normal in the next billing cycle.

“There was an additional Independent Service Operator charge that happened this month … it’s an additional charge that we’re passing on,” he said. “We are working with the power authority, we’re still doing our own research.

“This has nothing to do with any other [transmission congestion contract] arrangements that we have,” the mayor said.

That explanation is the first many customers have heard since the bills were mailed out, said village resident William Swiskey, an outspoken critic of the administration. A retired village utilities director and former trustee, Mr. Swiskey said he saw that portion of his bill rise about 80 percent from November to December.

Since receiving his bill, Mr. Swiskey said he reached out to the mayor and NYPA for clarification about the rate hikes, but was unable to get an answer.

“It seems to me the Village of Greenport is unable to explain them,” he said in a telephone interview Friday. “It doesn’t make much sense to pay a bill and not know what you’re paying for. The public is entitled to know.”

When asked if there was a reason residents weren’t informed about the additional charge Mr. Nyce said, “Nope.” There was no discussion of the PPA increase at this week’s Village Board work session.

The electric department was formerly under the direction of utilities director Jack Naylor, who was placed on administrative leave this summer before resigning in September. Currently, the responsibilities of the utilities director are being shared by the mayor, village administrator, clerk and treasurer.

When contacted for an explanation last week, village administrator David Abatelli said he did not have an answer.

“I hate to say this, but I really don’t know a lot about the key information about the electric rates,” he said, before suggesting a reporter call village treasurer Charlene Kagel and clerk Sylvia Pirillo for an explanation.

Ms. Pirillo said that when contacted by residents about the hike, she tells them “it’s part of the PPA.”

“It was a bill that we received from NYPA with an inordinately high PPA charge,” she said. “I don’t know why. That’s what it is.”

When told by a reporter that she was said to be the appropriate person to speak about the issue, Ms. Kagel said, “Actually, that would not be me.”

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03/19/13 9:28pm

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTOS | Julia Robins (left) and Mary Bess Phillips at a debate last week.

Mary Bess Phillips and Julia Robins won four-year terms on the Greenport Village Board in a close election Tuesday.

Ms. Phillips, the lone incumbent, was the tope vote-getter with 214 votes, followed by Ms. Robins, a first-time candidate, at 189. A third candidate, William Swiskey, secured 171 votes.

A total of 330 votes were cast, including 63 absentee ballots. Forty-three voters selected only one candidate. There were seven write-in votes, including two for “nobody.” Seven absentee ballots were also left blank.

Mr. Swiskey and Ms. Phillips shook hands after the results were announced. Ms. Robins was not in attendance.

“I’m very happy,” Ms. Phillips said. “I’m glad they honored me for my last four years. I plan on being just as busy in the next four years.”

When reached by phone, Ms. Robins admitted to being nervous over the outcome.

“I’m very grateful to everyone who supported me,” she said. “I’m excited and looking forward to being a member of the Village Board.

“I’m very happy the campaign is over and I’m ready to go to work,” Ms. Robins added.

Mr. Swiskey called the village a “mess” as he made his way out the door Tuesday night. “It’s probably just as well,” he said of the defeat.

Read the complete story in Thursday’s issue of The Suffolk Times.

02/11/13 5:01pm
02/11/2013 5:01 PM

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | William Swiskey outside Greenport Village Hall Monday.

A familiar name in Greenport will be on the ballot in this year’s village trustee elections. Former trustee and utilities director William Swiskey turned in his petitions Friday to run for one of two seats to be decided in the March 19 village elections.

Trustee Mary Bess Phillips has said she will seek reelection while Trustee Chris Kempner announced last fall that she’ll step down when her term ends this spring. Ms. Kempner said her decision was prompted by the pressures of having two young children at home and working full time as Riverhead Town’s community development director.

Potential candidates must file nominating petitions with the village clerk’s office by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13. The state set deadline was originally Feb. 12 before state officials realized that’s Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, a state holiday, said Village Clerk Sylvia Pirillo.

By Monday Mr. Swiskey was the only candidate who had yet filed petition, Ms. Pirillo said. Ms. Phillips confirmed two weeks ago that she intends to run again.

After serving as the village utilities director for more than a decade, Mr. Swiskey was elected in 2008 to fill the remaining term of the late trustee George Hubbard, Sr. He lost the seat in 2009 and ran another unsuccessful campaign in 2011.

“I don’t think people in the village have been given a fair shake or a voice,” Mr. Swiskey said. He argues that the village has devoted too much of its energy in recent years to Mitchell Park and the downtown business district, while giving short shrift to residential neighborhoods and outlying parks.

“Look at the condition of some of the side streets,” he said. “They’re just ignoring them.”

He also charges that the village, especially the utilities department, is out of touch with residents.

“If you call to complain about your light bill, no one calls back,” he said. “People have forgotten that government works for the people.”

Village residents can register to vote at Village Hall on March 7 from 8:30 to 5 and on March 9 from 11 to 5.
Polls will be open March 19 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the Third Street firehouse.