Today’s round of questions, my smart-aleck replies and the real answers:

Question: I have Dominion Energy for my heat at my small business in Asheville. I was on the 12-month plan that averages out your bill over 12 months. My average plan was $66 a month, for 12 months. Then they upped me to $101 a month, a 50%-plus rate hike. I argued with them on the phone, until I got someone higher up I could talk to. I knew they had gotten approved for a 14% rate hike, but the woman on the phone said they also factor in the possible future cost of natural gas that they project. I’m guessing they’re now operating under this rule where there’s a loophole that allows them to charge people on their projected cost of operation. Is this correct? I’m going to pay my bills as I go now. This is billed as a benefit to consumers, but really it is a benefit to them. What a surprise.

My answer: Thank god I tapped into my neighbor’s gas line years ago. It’s really the most efficient way to cut down on your bill.

Real answer: Dominion spokesperson Persida Montanez said some more additional information about budget billing is needed here.

“This program averages the 12 previous bills and the projected cost of energy over the next 12 months and divides that amount into 12 equal payments,” Montanez said. “The payment amount is typically recalculated every 12 months to reflect actual usage and the projected cost of energy over the next 12 months.”

This monthly amount may change “if rate or cost of gas changes occur, or if the amount of energy being consumed changes significantly,” she added.

Dominion’s webpage on budget billing explains all of this.

“If the total amount paid is less than the actual billing amount, then the customer can either pay the difference in full or have the difference added to the recalculated Budget Billing payment amount for the next 12 months,” Montanez said. “In this case, at 12 months, the customer had a remaining balance of more than $100 based on actual usage (the cost of gas increased during that period), so he decided to pay his balance in full each month.”

With the customer’s permission, I provided Dominion his name and address information. 

The bills that customers receive also show actual energy usage and charges, total amount due and the budget billing payment amount.

Under a section titled, “Can my payment amount due change during the year?” Dominion says what Montanez said above, but the utility adds a caveat:

“However, special circumstances may result in a recalculation during the year. For example, your monthly amount may change during the year if rate changes occur, if you add services to your account or if the amount of energy you consume changes significantly.”

In a January column, another reader asked about natural gas bills running higher, and Montanez noted then that they have risen “because the cost of natural gas is going up, like other commodities, because there is a rise in demand for natural gas domestically and abroad.” Natural gas costs have risen about 52 percent over last winter, she said.

Dominion does not profit on the cost of the natural gas component of rates, the majority of customers’ bills. The company makes money by charging for the infrastructure that brings natural gas to your house.

Dominion has 73,000 customers in Western North Carolina, 637,000 statewide.

Question: I got stuck in traffic last Sunday on Clayton Road by Biltmore Baptist Church, and there were two Buncombe County officers directing traffic. My question is, does the church pay for the county Sheriff’s Office to do this? Do taxpayers pay for their services? This could also apply to other special events, e.g. concerts, sporting events etc. With a police shortage, it would make sense for the taxpayers to get reimbursed for these special purposes.

My answer: I think it’s safe to say if your church is big enough to require cops to direct traffic, the church can probably afford to pay the fee.

Real answer: I’ve actually gotten this question twice recently, so it definitely grabs people’s attention. I’ve also seen a similar situation with other churches in the area.

“Yes, many churches hire the Sheriff’s Office and other local law enforcement agencies to work as security/help with traffic during services,” Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Aaron Sarver said via email. “This is ‘off-duty work’ in that they are paid by the churches, and it’s not part of the regular working schedule for a deputy. Many festivals/sporting events/etc., in Asheville hire law enforcement in this same manner.”

Pay will vary by the gig, Sarver said, but $45 an hour is the minimum rate.

Caleb Crosby, who works in communications at Biltmore Church, confirmed that, “All officers directing traffic on Sunday mornings are off-duty and paid directly by Biltmore Church.”

The church pays the rate established by the county, Crosby said. I asked him if they hire the officers simply to keep traffic moving.

“You’re absolutely right about wanting to keep traffic moving so we don’t become a burden on our neighbors,” Crosby said. “We’re currently a church with seven locations and around 8,000 in attendance.”

Got a question? Send it to John Boyle at or 828-337-0941.

One reply on “Answer Man: Unnatural rate hike for natural gas? Sheriffs directing traffic for churches?”

  1. Irrelevant note to this conversation is the re-branding of Biltmore Baptist Church to “Biltmore Church,” dropping the Baptist from its name. I suppose the band with the drum set had something to do with that.

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