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Pioneer pulls funding in Lowndes County

J. Malloy Chandler, executive vice president and general manager of Pioneer Electric Cooperative, in a letter to the Lowndes County Commission, informed them that Pioneer would no longer fund community projects.

The letter, addressed to Charlie King, chairman, cited reference to the recent groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the Collirene Recreation Center.

In the letter, Chandler stated that he received last minute notification of the ceremony, one that Pioneer helped to fund. He also said, "It is apparent that Pioneer Electric's financial support over the last few years, and this year's contribution to the Collirene Center were totally unappreciated.

"This recent event is consistent with other actions by organizations in Lowndes County of asking Pioneer for help financially and then forgetting where that help came from. Over that past few years, Pioneer has contributed several hundred thousand dollars to schools and other activities in Lowndes County," Chandler said in the letter.

This, according to Terry Wilhite of Pioneer Electric, has come as a result of repeated negative publicity thrown at the cooperative, which has in the past bent over backward to assist community funding whenever possible.

"We are not just here to provide electricity and water n we are also here to improve the quality of life for our customers," Wilhite said.

King said in recent meetings held by Catherine Flowers, who is employed by the Commission to head industrial and economic development, the purpose of the gatherings was to "discuss with residents our sewage problems in Lowndes County."

But according to King, during these meetings discussions shifted to electricity rates, and bill amounts that area residents were upset with.

"During these public meetings, people began complaining about their high electric and water bills," King said. "In defense, Pioneer said we had people out working against them."

According to Wilhite, the problem with high energy bills in Lowndes County stems from the poverty level n a factor he is quick to say is not the fault of the residents.

"The people having trouble with high energy bills do not have adequate conservation at their homes," he said. "There is not adequate insulation to contain air conditioning; doors and windows do not seal, and even some windows are missing entirely n these are all factors that cause increases in elctricity consumption."

Wilhite said that while Pioneer operates on the "honor system," where the customer reads their own meter, his company periodically sends people out in the field to perform "spot checks" on the meters.

"It is during these spot checks that we find an inconsistency in the meter readings, and we have to adjust the bill accordingly," he said.

Residents spoken to on Wednesday said although their bills were what they would consider high, their service had never been shut off.

"All I had to do was call Pioneer and tell them I could not pay the whole amount, and they were willing to work with me," said Pamela Myles of Reeves Drive in Mosses. "My bill is high n the last one was $273, but it has come down some compared to previous bills."

Myles also has a problem in her front yard with a water main leak near the meter box, a problem she said she was unaware of.

"The lower bill has to be because they are helping us to lower it," Myles said.

"We can get people from other agencies to come and help residents with weatherizing their homes, such as the Department of Human Resources, or the Auburn Extension Office," Wilhite said. "We are all about helping our customers to enjoy a better quality of life."