May 9, 2002

Mayor Casts Tie-Breaking Vote To End Third Shift At Light Plant

Mayor Ron Alexander cast the tie-breaking vote to terminate the third shift at the Memphis City Light Plant and to leave the plant unmanned from midnight until 8:00 a.m.

Alexander broke a 2-2 tie, allowing the city to eliminate the third shift on a one-month trial basis to test the automation system and to determine the feasibility of eliminating the staff position permanently.

Alderman Mike Stone made the motion to close the light plant from midnight to 8:00 a.m. with Alderman Teresa Skinner seconding the motion. Both voted in favor of the action while Aldermen Patty Simerl and Ron Gardner voted against the motion.

Light Plant Superintendent Mike Ahland proposed the transition at the May 2 Memphis City Council meeting. He stated the light plant could utilize the computer automation and the security system installed two years ago in the facility.

Ahland told the council there are 29 cities in Missouri that maintain their own power plant. Only four of those facilities are manned 24 hours a day, and one of those four, Macon, currently is making the transition to be closed overnight.

Unionville closed its power plant overnight beginning in 1986 Ahland said. "They have the same security system that we have at the Memphis plant and they have reported no problems during those years," Ahland stated. "And they don't even have 24-hour police coverage like we have here in Memphis, offering added security for the plant."

Simerl expressed her concern regarding the computer systems possibly overheating creating a fire hazard.

City Engineer Dave Stephens indicated to Ahland there would be no problems with overheating. Ahland added that the high temperatures at the plant result from power generation, noting there is always someone on hand while the plant is operational.

Gardner indicated he had spoke with the city fire department, which estimated a likely response time of five to 10 minutes for a fire at the plant. He went on to note the department had stated an employee on hand at the plant likely could control any small fire at the facility with an extinguisher before the blaze got out of hand.

Gardner also questioned the automated system if phone lines were knocked out to the facility. Ahland reported the system would not function properly if the phone lines were not in service.

Aldermen Gardner and Simerl along with former aldermen George Eggers and Gretchen Gregory, voted to purchase the $27,000 automation center for the plant in March of 2000 but had indicated their desire to see no shift changes at the plant at the time of the system's purchase.

When the city was calculating the proposed price increase in municipal electric services last year, the possibility of cutting the third shift at the plant was discussed as an option to keep the price increase to a minimum for residents.

Currently the individual working the late shift is eligible for retirement. City officials indicated the job would be shifted within the light department, meaning there would be no job cuts. When the position is vacated it will not likely be filled.

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