MONROE CITY, Mo. | Electric service for a troubled Monroe City manufacturer was disconnected Thursday morning after the business paid $20,000, but failed to meet city demands for an immediate payment of $201,120.85 for overdue utility bills.
The disconnection comes on the heels of the Monroe City Board of Aldermen refusing to accept a repayment plan from Arcadia Metalcraft, a self-described second-tier auto parts supplier, which fell behind on its utility bill. Monroe City's municipal utility provides electric, natural gas, water and sewer services to residential, commercial and industrial customers in the city.
Arcadia had a disconnection notice dated Dec. 2, but avoided shutoff at that time because Monroe City voluntarily follows the Missouri Cold Weather Rule, which prevents disruption of utilities between Nov. 1 and March 31 when temperatures are forecast to be below 32 degrees on any 24-hour period. Although the state Cold Weather Rule is aimed at residential customers, Monroe City does not differentiate among residential, industrial and commercial customers.
The 24-hour forecast between Wednesday and Thursday was for temperatures above freezing and that was when the city disconnected service.
Arcadia officials said the nearly two-month General Motors strike caused orders and revenues to drop, forcing the layoff of two thirds of its 90-plus person workforce. About 35 workers who were in the facility Thursday morning were sent home when the lights went out.
“We are in the dark,” said Al Dimmit, the company's director of engineering. “We sent people home and told them we would call them when we know something.”
Mayor John Long and a majority of the Board of Aldermen have been at odds over whether to accept a repayment plan offered by Arcadia at the Nov. 27 meeting, and again at the Dec. 5 meeting. The company offered to repay its bills at a rate of $20,000 a week while paying current bills on times.
A majority of the now five-member board refused to endorse the Arcadia plan because it did not meet city policies for paying utilities.
“Arcadia was disconnected due to the fact that we are following policy and the legal advice that we were given. No action was taken at the last meeting to change what was already in place,” Alderman Jason Osbourne wrote in an email Thursday asking about the shutoff. Osbourne was one of four aldermen opposed to Arcadia's request.
Long could not be reached on comment on Thursday.
Graham Furse, vice chairman of Arcadia, who was one of the investors who purchased the former Continental Casting nearly two years ago, said the company's viability is on the line.
“My partner and I and the management team are trying to figure what to do next. It is a tough spot,” Furse said, adding that that while shutting down permanently is a possibility, that he is working to remain afloat. “Failure is not an option. We have (put) too much into this business.”
Furse said the company has paid $20,000 a week, including a payment on Thursday morning.
“We are extremely disappointed. We have met all the obligations that we said we would and were even a day early this week,” Furse said. “Some members of the council are placing politics over what is best for the city. We have done everything possible to work through this.”
Jerry Potterfield, a community activist who spearheaded a signature campaign to force an audit from the Missouri state auditor of the city, said Monroe City taxpayers were not in a positon to extend credit to the company.
“Policy was followed and that is what should have occurred,” he said. “I am never happy to see someone fail but they had opportunities and it did not work out for them. The city is not in the banking business.”
Jackie Pangborn, city administrator, sent an email to the mayor and board of aldermen late Wednesday, telling them that utility shutoffs would take place on Thursday. She told the board that if residential customers were to be disconnected, it was only fair to shut off Arcadia's services.
“I am torn with the possibility of processing the disconnections tomorrow,” she wrote. “The temperatures will allow us to shut the electric off – if I do the residential I will have to do Arcadia. As you know, I was in support of working with them, but as this has drawn out, I have a great deal of empathy for them, but am concerned. I also know that the majority of the board does not want to see them shut off, but does feel we need to follow the policy.”
Pangborn said that she requested a faster repayment schedule from Arcadia than the proposed $20,000 per week, though the city has not given a specific amount that it expects.
“They are not meeting our requests of what they need to pay in order to catch up,” Pangborn said. “We haven't actually given them an amount, but they haven't increased what they are paying. To me it would seem that they are probably paying their raw materials/employees and we are down on the list because they know that we have worked with them in the past. We have sent payment plan options that were developed. I have not heard anything.”
Pangborn told the board that without a special meeting to revamp policies, she would disconnect the company if it did not pay $201,120.85 by 9 a.m. on Thursday. Furse said the company paid $20,000 and was disconnected by 9:15 a.m.