MINDEN, LA (KSLA) - Some Minden residents say a dramatic increase in utility prices is forcing them to make tough choices like eat or pay their unusually high bills.
In a KSLA News 12 Investigation, we dug deeper to try to learn the reason for the surge in power prices.
Rene Dawson and her husband take care of her 80-year-old mother and 2 of their grandchildren. The recent increase in her utility bill has put a strain on her family, Dawson said.
She asked for a payment extension.
"When I called, they said they didn't do that. I either had to pay my bill or you'd be disconnected."
That's something Minden Mayor Tommy Davis said can't be helped. "We're required by law to collect for utilities. We cannot give electricity away."
Minden's 2015 financial audit shows 14 instances when city employees and City Council members failed to pay their utility bills on time but their service was not shut off as policy states.
When asked for an explanation, the mayor said, "That's what was reported in the findings last year. That has all been corrected. We've got new policies. We treat the employees just like everybody else is treated."
The mayor said the audit findings have nothing to do with the city not giving payment extensions, extensions that many say they have been asking for because of the recent unexpected surge in prices.
"We're very sure that what has gone through the meter is correct," Davis said. "What we're not sure of is how correct our readings have been in the past."
Minden is installing new, digital meters that will eliminate human error and, hopefully, give a more accurate representation of how much electricity residents use, the mayor added.
"So all our meters will be read accurately and at the same time each month."
Davis also explained that the cost of transporting electricity from AEP/SWEPCO has gone up.
"We would like to either get out of the contract with SWEPCO, or we would like to renegotiate our contract with SWEPCO."
Entergy's lines are used to transport AEP/SWEPCO electricity to Minden. But the governing bodies of AEP/SWEPCO - Southwestern Power Pool (SPP), Entergy and Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO) - recently added charges for transmission and congestion.
Those costs have been passed onto customers through a "power cost adjustment."
"We're really getting double charged," the mayor said. "And we're doing everything possible to rectify that situation."
Through public record requests, KSLA News 12 obtained a copy of the city's electricity contract with AEP/SWEPCO.
Davis said Minden is 8 years into the 20-year contract and, when it was signed, the governing bodies were not charging those additional charges.
The mayor recently released a letter explains how the city believes it was overcharged some $300,000 by the companies that manage the electrical grid system, SPP and MISO.
In the letter, he says the city is in contact with a Washington, D.C., law firm that is investigating the additional charges.
For more specific details of the letter, you can read it here: