Don’t look now, but the Frankfort Plant Board is finding its stride.

After a couple of years of open hostility with City Hall and self-inflicted PR blunders, Frankfort’s municipal utility is on a roll:

  • The long-awaited — and sometimes hotly debated — electricity contract with the Kentucky Municipal Energy Agency is in effect and yielding cheaper and environmentally friendlier juice than what FPB had been buying from Kentucky Utilities. First-year savings are estimated at nearly $5 million, and in new FPB General Manager Gary Zheng, Frankfort has the brainpower and negotiating skills to maximize the benefits of KyMEA membership rolling forward. As the majority consumer in the purchasing cooperative, Frankfort has some clout, and Zheng is the right guy to wield it.
  • Ratepayers will get a one-time rebate as part of the first-year savings from KyMEA participation. Installation of so-called smart meters for water and electricity will significantly reduce the expense and accuracy of future readings, causing permanent savings for ratepayers.
  • FPB directors took a deep breath and fixed a PR debacle by funding water bottle refilling stations in all Franklin County schools as part of the utility’s 2019-20 budget.
  • New blood in cable programming is jazzing up the offerings on Channel 10, including a new live show called “Around 10” on Wednesday mornings. Among other fun content is a segment with a State Journal journalist talking about the headlines of the past week. We’re honored to have a part.
  • From neighboring Woodford County came great news this week: that the city of Midway is looking to buy its water from FPB when a contract with the for-profit Kentucky American Water Co. expires in 2025. That can only be good for Frankfort ratepayers as another municipality contributes to maintenance and upgrades of the water system.

The Midway news reminds of the one lingering trouble spot for FPB: water storage. The Tanglewood tank controversy simply won’t go away, no matter how hard the Plant Board tries.

In 2019 alone, we’ve seen two opposite strategies fail. First was an olive branch to the Frankfort City Commission in the form of a joint meeting to explore a compromise. We’ll never know since the meeting was held in secret, but it must have come up empty, because a more aggressive tactic followed quickly: a PR blitz that implored ratepayers to raise sand at City Hall and tell the mayor and commissioners to butt out of the Plant Board's business.

Not only has the ratepayer uprising failed to happen, but chapped commissioners (one ripped the FPB campaign as “propaganda”) have dug in their heels even deeper.

FPB defenders will never understand what they see as curiously disproportionate political influence by a single, relatively small residential neighborhood. This column won’t go down that road of trying to dissect the politics of the long-running controversy. The undeniable reality is that a majority of the city commission and its advisory planning board have decided that FPB’s replacement tank plan is all wet.

Perhaps this week’s news from Midway should get us thinking bigger as a community. What if Frankfort became the hub of a regional municipal water cooperative whose combined resources could fund first-rate water storage far away from Tanglewood — or any other residential neighborhood, for that matter?

Midway’s disenchantment with Kentucky American Water suggests other communities in the region could be plucked away from the for-profit provider or their other current source — just as KyMEA found eager municipalities for electricity purchasing.

Steve Stewart is publisher of The State Journal. His email address is steve.stewart@state-journal.com.

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