Three slots are available on the city council, which will be filled by the three top vote-getters in the field.
The slate is Lydia L. Glaize, incumbent Hiram A. “Alex” Heath III, Hattie Portis-Jones, Irene Carter May and incumbent Jean Barkley Russell.
Glaize, 53, is a college and career coach at Landmark Christian School.
Heath, 63, is retired from the Fairburn and Union City police departments.
Portis-Jones, 58, is an independent insurance agent.
May, 63, is an account manager at Action Capital Corp. in Atlanta.
Russell, 67, is a publicist and parade producer.
Topics at the forum included employment, senior housing, public safety, parks and recreation, utilities, vocational training, movie shoots, infrastructure, small businesses and health care.
Portis-Jones called the city’s electric rates the “No. 1 issue” among its 13,000 residents, most of whom, according to the city website, are direct or indirect customers of the city-owned utility.
The utility provides power at between 8 and 12 cents per kilowatt hour.
In comparison, Georgia Power charges between 4 and 9 cents and GreyStone Power Corp. charges between 6 and 11 cents.
Russell said the city’s $15 million general fund budget relies on the $1 million income from the utility.
“I’m going to be very honest. It’s probably not politically right,” she said. “I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Oh, yes, we can lower these rates.’ I just think right now, as much as we would like to lower the rates, I just don’t see that as a viable option in continuing to keep the city financially stable.”
Portis-Jones said the city needs to help citizens.
“That is the absolute No. 1 issue that people are complaining about. I have encountered several individuals who are leaving Fairburn because of the utilities, electric specifically,” she said.
“Why are we in the electric business? That poses a question, because if that’s the only utility we’re providing, it’s on the back of the citizens to support the high, increasing rates.”
May said national projects can help in the future.
“We need to get together and tell Washington, D.C., that we need to open up our oil fields and our gas fields and become energy-independent like they’ve been telling us we need to become for years,” she said.
“They don’t let us have the God-given resources that this country has right under our own feet.”
Glaize said she once got a bill for $1,100 in one month.
“One of the things I absolutely am concerned about is we have on the table that our rates are going to go up,” she said. “They say it’s $5 extra per month but I can tell you, I’ve never seen an increase that only affected me $5 a month. And you won’t either.”
Heath said federal regulations are increasing costs.
“They’re totally against coal-burning plants that generate power, simply because of the emissions. But believe it or not, that is the cheapest way of producing electricity,” he said. “When you go into natural gas, you’re looking at almost three times as much.”
Mayor Mario Avery is running unopposed and did not attend the event.
City council members Elizabeth Hurst and Marian Johnson attended.
Moderators included 1380 WAOK talk show host Sidney Wood, former city zoning committee member Betty North, Durham Lake Homeowners Association president James Whitmore, the Rev. Danita Jones, Teamsters Local 728 representative Eric Robertson and former mayoral candidate Michael Johnson.
The utility rates in this story were obtained from the utility providers’ websites and do not include fees. For more accurate information, visit the Georgia Public Service Commission website at http://www.psc.state.ga.us/electric/surveys/residentialrs.asp.