City wants to give jail generator


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Elizabeth City wants to give away a generator to the Albemarle District Jail Commission — and all the costs that come with it.

The city's offer is a product of the jail board’s challenge to part of its utility bill from September. Jail Administrator Bob Jones told City Council last week that, because the city-provided generator at the jail failed, the detention facility got hit with almost $7,000 in utility demand charges it would have otherwise avoided.

Jones and jail attorney Herbert Mullen asked the city to not only forgive the demand charges, but renegotiate utility services between the city and the jail.

Councilors rejected that request, however.

In a letter to Mullen last week, City Manager Rich Olson wrote that, following a closed session, “the city council decided to provide the generator and associated equipment to the jail at no cost after the payment of $6,938.40 is made to the city.”

Olson’s letter continues, “The replacement value of the generator and all associated equipment is approximately $650,000,” and the generator “will now become an asset of the jail” and its maintenance will be the jail's responsibility.

Following a closed session of the Jail Commission on Thursday, Jones said Friday that Mullen is drafting a response to the city. He declined to answer whether the jail will pay the demand charges and/or accept the generator from the city.

Asked Friday if the jail has the option of refusing the generator, Olson declined to say.

The unusual dispute between the city and jail started in late September when the generator the city provided to the detention facility malfunctioned. The city provided the generator years ago to help the jail with “peak shaving,” or reducing electrical demand during a period of high system usage. The generator failed to start during one of those periods of high usage, leading to the $6,938 in demand charges.

Though Jones and Mullen argue it's the city's fault the jail accumulated those charges, Olson argued — and city councilors agreed — that the city has never promised the generator would never break, nor did it promise to pay the jail’s demand charges.

The other issue with the generator's failure is that a state regulation requires the jail have backup power at all times, ensuring it can operate in an outage. Though city crews brought in a temporary backup generator, at a cost of nearly $11,000 to the city, it still took hours for it to get delivered and set up.

Olson also said the city never committed to providing the jail power with no chance of an outage. Such a guarantee would require the jail to have a second generator and pay higher rates, he said.