JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Gas, groceries and housing costs are skyrocketing and your JEA bill could be next.
“So when I say JEA could be raising rates again, you say what?” Action News Jax Ben Becker asked JEA customer Kenneth Smith.
“Again?” responded Smith.
Action News Jax first reported in October 2021, the JEA board approved raising the fuel rates for an average household in Jacksonville by approximately $10 a month, creating payment problems for people like Smith.
“I came down here (to JEA headquarters) to talk with them about a payment arrangement,” Smith said.
On Monday, JEA’s finance and operations committee proposed another possible rate hike -- passing the utility’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget and sending it to the board of directors for a vote on Tuesday -- but it may leave Jacksonville neighbors budgeting a lot more for their bills.
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The proposal is a 17% increase in fuels rates, which covers the cost of the natural gas used in your home. Next spring, the utility will also consider a double-digit base rate increase through 2026 – the base rate is your energy usage and the costs needed to produce it.
“We manage to keep rates as low as feasible,” JEA CEO Jay Stowe told Becker in a Zoom interview.
Stowe says there are three reasons for the increase:
- A multi-billion dollar commitment for Plant Vogtle
- Operating expenses
- Maintaining the utility’s credit rating
“Is there any end in sight?” asked Becker.
“There is pressure on rates right now on the electric side of our business and we’ll have a series of rate increases consistent with what we have said in the past,” Stowe said.
In April, U.S. natural gas prices surged to the highest level in more than 13 years, partly because of Russia’s war in Ukraine causing a global energy crunch.
All the while, JEA also on a hiring spree, adding a proposed 111 employees. In fiscal year 2022, JEA’s total labor costs were $317.7 million, but in fiscal year 2023 that number is $332 million – a $14.3 million increase paying an average of nearly $129,000 per job.
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As for Smith, his job is to survive.
“How are you going to get by?” asked Becker.
“Keep praying,” said Smith. “I don’t have a choice, have to do what you got to do.”
The board of directors meeting starts at 9 a.m. Tuesday and there is time for public comment. If approved by the board, the JEA budget goes to City Council in July with a vote in September.