Oregon City Council last week backed a resolution in support of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) and urged the Ohio Legislature to restoring funding to its budget.
The OCC has a current operating budget of approximately $8.5 million per year. However, under the proposed biennial budget, the OCC’s budget would be reduced to $4.1 million per year.
“The funding for the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel is threatened to be cut in half,” said Councilman Mike Sheehy, who sponsored the resolution with Council member Sandy Bihn.
In 1976, the OCC was created by the Ohio General Assembly to represent the interests of residential utility customers in matters relating to their public utility services, electric, natural gas, water and telephone, according to the resolution.
“It’s one of the organizations in Ohio that goes to bat for the consumer with respect to utility rates,” said Sheehy. “Historically, there are other organizations that have been set up by state government that serve that function, but some of those organizations sort of got the reputation of being more of a facilitator to the large power industries than the consumer itself. The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel has done an effective job in representing the consumer. With the proposal to cut its budget in half, it’s my suspicion that the effectiveness of the organization would probably be halved at a time when it should probably be doubled.”
The OCC is funded solely by assessments on utilities, not taxes. The OCC’s budget does not affect the state’s General Revenue Fund.
The OCC staff participate in legal proceedings, analyze utility issues, educate customers resolve informal complaints relating to utility services through the Consumer Call Center, and advocates on behalf of Ohio’s residential households.
In the current biennium, the OCC has saved customers $54.8 million directly through its advocacy, and an additional $1.9 billion in shared savings with other partners, according to the resolution. During the past 35 years, the OCC has saved utility customers $10 billion in avoided utility costs.
Any reduction, according to the resolution, would not go back to taxpayers, but would go to the utility companies, and the proposed budget cuts would have a detrimental impact on the residential utility customers of the state and the ability of the OCC to effectively advocate on their behalf.
Bihn said the cuts in funding would not represent a savings in the state’s general revenue fund.
“This actually comes out of the utility bills,” said Bihn. “Instead of helping the consumers as it has in the past, it would go into the coffers of the utility companies, so this does not affect the state budget.”
In addition, Bihn said the state has one of the highest utility rates in the country.
“Certainly with the complexity of deregulation and all the things that have happened, I think it’s important to have a citizen advocate in these very challenging energy times with public utilities,” said Bihn. “I’ve found this group to be incredibly helpful to the average citizen. This is a time when the public needs, more than ever, help in saving money.”
Councilman Jerry Peach said the OCC is funded through a small assessment or tariff on utility bills.
“The average savings that might be realized for the average customer would be no more than .10 per month. It would be a very modest savings to consumers. Yet the savings that have been realized by the actions of the Consumers’ Counsel advocating for residents has been considerable,” said Peach.