The city of Orange may join a consortium of other Southeast Texas cities to lobby Entergy regarding a rate increase planned for next year.

The other cities include Port Arthur, Nederland, Port Neches,Groves and Huntsville. Orange City Council members Tuesday said they would hostworkshops to further discuss the issue.

John Stover of the Mead-Westvaco paper mill in Evadale told council Tuesday that Entergy’s planned increase would net $88 million in new dollars.

“Their calculations for the new rate structure are very complicated,” he said. “They should be rolling back rates and not asking for an increase. Entergy has the highest rates of any investor-owned utility company in Texas.”

Bobby Fillyaw of the Orange County Economic Development Corp. also expressed concerns about higher rates having an adverse effect on the ability to attract new business to the area.

“It hurts economic development when businesses see the cost of business going up,” said Fillyaw.

However, Daniel Lawton, an Austin-based consultant to the consortium, told council the increase is justified.

“Entergy has not increased rates since 1991,” he said. “Fuel costs have gone up and there have been increases for that, but the base rates have not changed.

Lawton gave a rate increase of .98 percent for residential consumers in the first year and .64 percent for industrial consumers for the same period.

In the second year residential rates would increase 2.44 percent and industrial rates by 1.44 percent. The second year there would be an increase of .97 percent for the electricity used for street lighting.
“It is not true that Entergy’s rates are the highest,” he said. He then rapidly gave the rates of other utility companies in Texas.“Industrial consumers want a rate decrease of $9 million. If their rates are reduced then other rates would have to be raised,” he said.

“Every number will be reviewed before this issue comes to a vote. I recommend that the rates be accepted.”

Mayor Brown Claybar remarked several times that this is a “very complicated situation”.

“I am very concerned about the effect the rate increase would have on out taxpayers, and also about the cost increase to our city and the effect on the budget,” said Councilwoman Theresa Beauchamp.

In other business, Police Chief Sam Kittrell appeared before the council with a report on gang activities in Orange.

Kittrell said that over the years, Orange has had very organized gang activities. In the 1980s there were Jamaican gangs who were violent and organized, but did not wear colors and were hard to identify. They were targeted and Orange police made cases against them and they were either sent to prison or deported or both.

In the same time period were activities that could be associated with the “Bloods” from California. Some members from California were sent here to organize local “gangs” to engage in drug trafficking.

There was also local gang activity in a gang that came to be known as “Michael Issac’s gang.” With the help of then-U.S. Attorney Bob Worthen, the first prosecution in the Eastern District of Texas Of the then new federal gang initiative resulted in the dismantling of the gang.

“What we have now is a bunch of “wanna be” gang members.They are loosely knit groups of gang members. Some are kids and young kids that start young and get worse as time goes on,” said Kittrell.

“Discussing the gang activity from a historical perspective is to reassure the mayor and council that the identification and investigation of gang activity is something that the police department is taking very seriously.”

Kittrell also reported that the level of gang activity is so disorganized that law enforcement tends to focus on individuals rather than the larger gang.

“We believe that a more ‘global’ response from law enforcement, education, churches, and the family units themselves is the correct approach to deal with the type of activity that we are seeing,”he said.

“For that reason I would ask the mayor to appoint a committee to develop a common and collective strategy to identify the level and severity of the problem and to craft a coordinated response to this problem in our community.”

There was positive response from the council about the committee.Future discussion is planned on the issue, council members said.