PUCO case against Youngstown Thermal brings court motion by Home Savings
By Kalea Hall
While the receiver continues work to get Youngstown Thermal’s finances under control, a local bank has filed a motion to intervene in the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio case against the utility company.
Home Savings Bank uses Youngstown Thermal’s heating and cooling services at its corporate headquarters at 275 W. Federal St. downtown.
Youngstown Thermal’s financial struggles left the company unable to pay its payroll and utility expenses in a timely manner. Fearful of a potential energy crisis in downtown Youngstown, PUCO, via the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, had the court appoint a receiver for the company in concern for the utility’s 45 customers.
“PUCO has moved so quickly in this matter that intervention by ratepayers at the PUCO hearing level has been effectively impossible,” the bank’s motion reads. “If PUCO had held administrative proceedings on this matter, Home Savings would have had a mandatory right to intervene to protect its interests.”
PUCO took two actions recently to prevent the potential energy crisis downtown: It had the court appoint receiver Reg Martin, a veteran in receiverships who owns Martin Management Services in Columbus; and it approved surcharge rates recommended by its staff so the payroll needs at Youngstown Thermal would continued to be met and service wouldn’t be interrupted.
Youngstown Thermal alerted PUCO of its financial struggle earlier this summer. The financial struggle began when the utility lost its largest customer, Youngstown State University. The company claims the struggle increased when four major customers wouldn’t pay their bills and now owe more than $1 million combined.
The Vindicator previously reported one of those customers is the city of Youngstown. The city disputes Youngstown Thermal’s bill of more than $141,000, which represents four years of underbilling because of a broken meter.
In the bank’s motion, it also claims to be one of the customers with a disputed bill.
“Earlier this year, [Youngstown Thermal] began pursuing a claim against Home Savings for purported ‘underbilling’ due to an allegedly defective meter, which Home Savings vigorously disputes,” the motion reads.
Home Savings contends in its motion the ratepayers are not being represented in the case and says “PUCO’s actions demonstrate that it has interests which are potentially antagonistic to Home Savings.”
“This case represents uncharted territory for all of the parties,” the motion reads. “No public utility in the state of Ohio has failed in decades.
“It simply cannot be that a case of this degree of pressing public importance to the downtown Youngstown business community should proceed without the ratepayers being heard – and yet, those ratepayers are unrepresented in this case so far.”
Home Savings says it has been subject to Youngstown Thermal service disruptions repeatedly and had to come up with plans to make sure its business wasn’t disrupted.
“The central phone and server operations of Home Savings are inside the building and cannot be permitted to fail due to the nature of Home Savings’ business,” the motion reads.
Since the filing of the motion, the receiver of Youngstown Thermal has reached out to customers to assure them he would keep them informed. On Thursday, Martin hosted a meeting for customers to answer any questions.
Martin must continue to provide updates to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, and on Friday he gave court Magistrate Timothy Welsh a synopsis of what he has done since he was named receiver in early August. Welsh, of Judge R. Scott Krichbaum’s court, told Martin the court intends to keep a close eye on the case because of its importance to the community.
Martin told the court he has worked with the Western Reserve Port Authority and other government entities to help in the progress.
“We are doing whatever we can just to try to help him,” said John Moliterno, executive director of the Western Reserve Port Authority.
A hearing in the Youngstown Thermal case will take place at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday in Judge Krichbaum’s courtroom.
Neither Home Savings nor PUCO could comment on the pending case.