U.S. Rep. Pat Ryan, residents and officials on the podium attend a news conference about the Central Hudson Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, in Poughkeepsie. To Ryan’s left is Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, D-Newburgh. Also in attendance are Dave Amato, owner of Ole Savannah in Kingston, Joe Beichert, vice president of Timely Signs, Dutchess County Legislator, D-Poughkeepsie, and Poughkeepsie Mayor Yvonne Flowers (Photo provided)
KINGSTON, NY – A contingent of Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. customers and political leaders united Friday to demand that the utility’s watchdog reject any delivery rate increases requested by the utility.
A Poughkeepsie news conference hosted by U.S. Rep. Pat, R-Ryan, aired Central Hudson complaints from local residents, including Joe Beichert, vice president of Timely Signs in Kingston, and Dave Amato, owner of the Ole Savanah restaurant in Kingston.
The event was held during an ongoing Civil Service Commission hearing in Albany before administrative judges, who will recommend to the PSC whether the company’s proposed double-digit raises should be granted.
Ryan, D-Gardiner, who represents the 18th Congressional District and is an outspoken critic of the utility, said the gathering came together to “highlight the ongoing Central Hudson billing issues and come together against Central Hudson’s proposed rate increase.”
In July, Central Hudson filed to raise electricity rates by 16% and gas rates by 19%, even though their parent company, Fortis, made more than $1 billion in profits last year, Ryan’s office said.
“Central Hudson’s proposed double-digit rate increase is blatant corporate greed,” Ryan said in a statement after the conference. “Raising prices this much when Hudson Valley families are already feeling economic pressure would be unacceptable, even if everything was working perfectly in Central Hudson. But everything is not perfect, not even close to it.
Beichert, whose family has owned Timely Signs since his father, Gerard “Ozzie” Beichert, founded it in 1973, said Central Hudson should pay for its mistakes, not ratepayers.
“Central Hudson created its own problems and should be responsible for paying for them,” Beichert said. “Now Central Hudson wants to raise fees, but has not resolved the billing issues.”
“This is not a political issue, but rather a matter of holding big business accountable for bad business practices,” Beichert said. “We don’t want commercialism or pleas for forgiveness – we want action and accountability.”
Amato, who also owns Brickmen Kitchen & Bar in Uptown Kingston, said the complaints are not directed at Central Hudson employees.
“I have friends who work hard every day for Central Hudson and make money — it’s not about them,” Amato said. “This is about my friends who are business owners or are elderly and on a fixed income in this community who are unable to make ends meet because of the irresponsible and unacceptable business practices of the leaders of Central Hudson.”
“My business saw a 300% increase in our bill due to the company’s supposed meter reading issues,” Amato added. “I was on their case for months and when they finally came to settle the matter, they didn’t give us cash, instead they gave us a Central Hudson loan on a piece of paper. Now, I’m lucky that my business was able to survive this, but I know a lot of people who aren’t so lucky and need the money they owe to support their families. The folks in the corner offices of Central Hudson shouldn’t wait for rate hikes while their clients are still suffering real financial losses.
Liselle LaFrance, president of Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz and a Central Hudson client, said the effects of the high bills are being felt by nonprofits.
“While many of the stories shared about problems with Central Hudson’s billing system have originated with residential customers and are heartbreaking, it has also had a major negative impact on non-commercial customers,” LaFrance said. “Historic Huguenot Street met with representatives from Central Hudson at one of Congressman Ryan’s workshops. We were assured that the problem would be fixed soon. Instead, it took months and follow-up calls to reach a decision on this one issue due to Central Hudson’s slow response.
“However, additional computational challenges persist. Nonprofits already face enough fi,” added LaFrance. “We don’t need Central Hudson’s problems to become our problems.”
Central Hudson spokesman Joseph Jenkins said Friday that the utility is doing what it can.
“Central Hudson is committed to addressing and resolving all of our customers’ concerns in a timely manner, and that includes those that come to us through our elected officials,” Jenkins said. “Last year, we held dozens of community meetings and engaged with more than 1,000 clients directly or with elected leaders.”
“During these meetings, customers can sit down with experienced members of Central Hudson’s customer service team to discuss any questions or concerns they may have about their account,” Jenkins said. “In almost every case, the issues affecting the customer’s account have been resolved and those customers are now receiving timely and accurate bills.”
Jenkins said the current billing system works better than before.
“Central Hudson’s current billing system performs close to or better than our previous system,” Jenkins said.
“Past experiences have eroded some of our customers’ trust, and our ongoing efforts to restore that trust will take hard work and time,” Jenkins said.
Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, D-Newburgh, said his office has received hundreds of complaints.
“For more than two years, Central Hudson customers have suffered from non-invoicing, late billing, inaccurate billing and overuse of estimated billing,” said Jacobson, who represents the 104th Assembly District.
An evidentiary hearing on the rate hike began Wednesday before administrative judges, which is expected to last a week.
In the past few years, Central Hudson has faced vocal complaints about its billing system and management practices.
It was also the target of a scathing report by the PSC’s investigative arm, dated December 15, 2022, that scathingly criticized Central Hudson’s billing practices and other management errors.