If you're suffering sticker shock from opening your bill from Nashville Electric Service, you're not alone.
NES reported its customer service phone line had a record number of calls last month from people asking questions about high bills, so the Channel 4 I-Team decided to look at where your electric dollars are going.
We found top managers have gotten substantial increases over the last five years, even with the economy in a recession and in spite of a critical state audit in 2012.
Amir Fahimi, of Bellevue, is one NES customer who couldn't believe his electric bill. His bill was more than $500 for one month, and his family hasn't even moved into that home yet. The house was empty except for the few hours a day when workers were inside installing hardwood floors or the family was stripping wallpaper.
"It's still a big shock, looking at it. And I already know what it is," Fahimi said about his bill.
As customers juggle their budgets and turn down their thermostats, NES is paying its five top executives more than $200,000 per year.
NES CEO DeCosta Jenkins makes $388,000 per year. In 2009, his salary was $257,000. That's $130,000 worth of raises in five years.
NES critic Ken Jakes, who is running for Metro Council, said that's too much.
"There's no excuse for this kind of pay," Jakes said. "You got people out here, right now, struggling to pay a light bill."
The Channel 4 I-Team asked Jenkins about his salary and his raises. He told us that under his leadership, NES's power system is robust and reliable.
"The board has a number of things they've asked me to do, and I've tried to do those things," Jenkins said.
The high bills that customers pay, he said, are not related to salaries but to the cost of buying power from the Tennessee Valley Authority.
"In terms of high bills, it's more a function of the weather," Jenkins said.
Jenkins' salary has increased by 51 percent in the last five years, but that's not the biggest salary increase at NES.
The salary of NES Chief Financial Officer Teresa Aplin has increased 62 percent in five years, from $161,000 to $261,000.
There are now 121 NES employees - more than 10 percent of the workforce - making more than $100,000 a year, not including their overtime.
"You've got pages here of more than $100,000 salaries. This is ridiculous," Jakes said. "I'd like somebody to explain to me what they do to earn this kind of money."
A list of employees' salaries provided by NES under an open records request show the lowest paid workers - utility workers - earn $36,046. A meter-reader trainee earns $36,940.
Keep in mind, Jenkins' latest raise came just months after a state audit that was highly critical of NES.
In December 2012, the state comptroller's office found questionable credit card purchases, $17 million worth of no-bid contracts for cable and employees being reimbursed for educational expenses based on altered documents.
"This is the leadership he's given, and he's being rewarded $388,000 for it," Jakes said.
The Channel 4 I-Team asked Jenkins about getting a raise after the critical audit. He downplayed the problems.
"Any company is going to have deficiencies," he said.
One NES board member said salaries are set based on studies done by a third party and that NES looks at industry standards for setting management compensation.
Board member Bob Mendes said the goal is to recruit and retain experienced upper management.
NES board members are appointed by the mayor.
In a recent customer satisfaction survey, a sampling of customers gave NES high marks for providing a continuous flow of power, but the customers gave NES low marks for providing electricity at a reasonable price.
The survey was done before the most recent round of bad weather and high bills.
For tips on how to reduce your electricity bill, visit: http://www.nespower.com/WaysToSave.html.
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