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YOUNGSTOWN Thermal request gets more scrutiny



Published: Thu, August 30, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



THE VINDICATOR, YOUNGSTOWN

A public hearing in September will be to hear what customers have to say about a rate increase.

By ROGER G. SMITH

CITY HALL REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A 9 percent rate increase would raise about $60,000 and probably make Youngstown Thermal's annual deficits go away.

Councilman Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, is worried the increase might scare away businesses from downtown.

Council's utilities committee scrutinized Thermal's position Wednesday in a talk about the proposed rate boost.

Thermal provides steam heating and cooling to about 50 downtown customers. Council oversees the steam company's rates.

Extra negativity: The perception, usually wrong, is that downtown is not business friendly, Hudson said. A nearly 10 percent rate increase only reinforces negativity with those looking for a reason to leave or not come at all, he said.

"That's a pretty fair chunk of change," he said.

Since Thermal's operation is fixed downtown, it has a stake in keeping and luring business, too, said Mark A. Butta, the company's vice president of project development. Even with the increase, steam is far cheaper than natural gas or electric, an appealing consideration, he said.

Thermal burns mostly coal to produce the steam. The portion of natural gas its plant uses, however, still raised costs dramatically, the company said. That, combined with rising gasoline and wage costs, led to the 9 percent request. Without the natural gas price spike, Thermal would have limited its request to 5 percent.

No complaints: Council has granted the company such increases each of the past two years. No customers have registered opposition to council.

Thermal absorbed rising costs over the previous 12 years. The company told the city a few years ago that it would rather increase rates slowly than seek one big jump and possibly lose customers.

The committee will schedule a public hearing in September and hear what customers have to say about the proposed increase.

Youngstown Thermal is part of Thermal Ventures, which also is based downtown. It also owns a system in Akron and operates systems in Richmond, Va., and Garden Grove, Calif.

rgsmith@vindy.com




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