FORT PIERCE, Fla. — Residents of Fort Pierce who have the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority as their utility company likely noticed an increase in their power bill this month.
A rate hike has led some people to protest outside FPUA, while others showed up to an FPUA board meeting to express how costly bills are making them scramble to find ways to afford them.
One woman held a sign that read, "Choices??? Buy food or pay high utilities."
Sweetie's Diner's owner Rick Reed also posted a message on his outside sign reading, "FPUA utility bill go up? Call Mayor Hudson." Reed said his power bill went up nearly $2,000 last month.
Other homeowners at the meeting showed WPTV their latest bills.
"Typically my bill ranges from $230 to $260, and when I got my bill it was about $450," customer Antonio Akl said.
Akl said his bill has never been that high.
Customer Tonya Edenfield also had a large increase in her power bill.
"Last month my bill was $316 and my bill this month is $511," she said.
Bills are almost doubling during an already tough time for families.
"I'm a single mom of three children," Edenfield said. "I have a 2,500-square-foot home, but between my mortgage, day care, working full time, working three other jobs just trying to make ends meet, and school supplies for three children and school clothes, it's a lot."
After Tuesday's utility board meeting, board Chair Frank Fee said the rate hike is largely due to the rising cost of natural gas which powers the grid that serves FPUA's roughly 28,000 customers, according to its website.
"Right now, the biggest help we need really is the natural gas to come down," Fee said. "We were aggressive about raising our [power cost adjustment] early when we noticed we were going to see volatile markets, and the purpose of that was to get in the problem now and, hopefully, we'll be the first ones out."
But that decision to raise rates early means they're raising at a time when bills would already be their highest.
"Right now we're starting the dog days of summer," Fee said. "It's the worst time to have these issues."
Fee said they are looking for cost reduction options and putting boots to the ground to help people with the biggest bills.
"It's definitely something that draws concern to myself, and I think management is going to look at them," he said. "They've got a list of all the addresses of those individuals with those high bills and, hopefully, they will — I'm pretty sure they will — go out and look at the meters and make sure everything's the way it should be."
In the meantime, Fee offered some advice.
"Just watch your consumption as best you can," he said.