Hornell mayor warns residents about door-to-door energy sales

Jen Carpenter

City officials are warning residents about something they say is a scam.

In a press release issued Monday afternoon, it was noted the city has received complaints about an energy company - US Energy Savings Corp. - based in Buffalo and Toronto.

“They've been going door-to-door trying to sell energy service contracts,” Hornell Mayor Shawn Hogan said during Monday's Common Council meeting, adding natural gas energy is supplied by individual companies, which is possible because of deregulation. “There's a lot of people out there looking to get your business as an energy provider.”

Hogan said the company promises residents savings on their natural gas prices in return for signing a five-year contract. However, he said, the rates in the contract are about 30-percent higher than the current natural gas rate.

“What we don't know is how many people they got to sign these things,” he said.

Hogan said the company preys on elderly and non-English speaking residents, and is listed as a valid alternative energy company. He said while the company may supply energy, its business practices are “vile.”

“I think it's unconscionable,” he said. “These people should be in jail, they shouldn't be selling energy contracts.”

Hogan said the company solicited in the city without a permit, and has since been ordered by the police department to pull its representatives from Hornell. He said the city also has contacted the state Attorney General's office.

Hogan said no residents should buy or sign contracts for something they don't understand. He said the city has complaint forms people can fill out if they've signed a contract.

This morning, Nadine Evans, US Energy Savings Corp. marketing director for the New York City-based firm, said the company allows customers to lock in a certain rate, which may be higher than the current rate, but could save them money in the long run. She said this works similar to a mortgage rate. She also said having representatives go door-to-door seems to be the most effective way to approach customers.

“We believe it's the most effective way to explain deregulation to customers,” she said. “It gives customers a chance to ask questions.”

Evans said the company never enrolls a customer in its program without first making a third-party verification call to ensure the customer understands the contract.

Evans said representatives always try to obtain permits before going door-to-door, and if the company finds representatives have entered an area without a permit, the representatives will leave immediately.

“We do our best to adhere to the rules,” she said.

Hogan is asking any residents who have had contact with US Energy Savings are asked to contact the police department at (607) 324-2860.

In other business:

l Hogan said the city is working on its budget, and is currently looking at a 13-percent increase to the overall budget, although he hopes to lower that amount.

Hogan said the city's largest expenses are personnel items, including payroll and benefits, particularly for public safety employees. He said the level of public safety the city provides is expensive, and taxpayers have to tell the city what level of service they want.

“I don't see it getting any less expensive as time goes on,” he said.

l The following two-year term reappointments were made: George Huffsmith and David Sengstock as Board of Public Safety commissioners; Mike Fucci and Joseph Bob as Board of Public Works commissioners; Rob Roberts as city clerk and Joe Pelych as city attorney.

l Hogan said a new resident in the city has been inquiring about a veteran's tax exemption, which the city doesn't have, but he plans to look into the issue.

l The Council authorized a payment of $2,955 to Harris Beach. Hogan said the payment is the result of a lawsuit the city is in with Welliver McGuire over the “faulty” water clarifier the company built for the city.