[box type=”shadow”]Author’s Note: This isn’t something I’ve done often over the last few years, so I’ll warn you this is a commentary column. You’ll quickly notice I’m no Billy Townsend. But I hope this sparks a tiny bit of discussion.[/box]We take a lot for granted from our readers. We assume you read the local news where and how you can. We assume you’re Lakelanders and happy to be. We assume you like a spirited debate and probably pull more often for the little guy. Except for Publix. They’re not little. Still, we assume you love Publix.
Everyone loves Publix. When I moved to Lakeland, I remarked more than once to old friends back North, that Publix was the best grocery I’ve had the pleasure to shop. (OK, I still complain when I want to shop at 11 pm and Publix refuses to believe we’re not all day people.)
The local media loves to report how Publix always makes the top 100 employer ranking. People love to tweet and meet at the Southgate Publix. My favorite series of short-pieces was on the reopening of that very same store. I love taking my daughter there each week to pick up staples and a cookie.
All that love and we forget Publix is a corporation. With the sense of entitlement that the corporation brings. Publix is no longer George Jenkins helping your aunt out with the groceries. Sure, there are managers and baggers and cashiers that are your friends and family. But Publix is a 21st Century grocery juggernaut with its eye on the horizon and its mind on the bottom line.
Now that bottom line means Publix wants a better rate from Lakeland Electric. A few months ago there was a scare that the City leaders would charge Publix a bit more for electricity. The reaction was like eggs went up 25 cents a dozen. That was it. Publix decided to look for a new supplier of eggs, err, electricity
They’re so sure they can get a better rate from TECO, they’ve met with your city officials to see if they can help grease the skids to sell Lakeland Electric to TECO or somebody. Key words: bigger and more willing to give Publix a better rate. But there’s a hitch. You.
You see, it currently would take 66% of registered Lakeland voters to put Lakeland Electric on the block. There’s a reason that number is so high. Years ago, Lakeland leaders saw the problems faced by other cities after selling off their electric companies. They wanted Lakelanders to make damn sure before we flew down that rocky road.
Now, a Publix official and our point person on the economic development front have approached City officials to see about getting that number reduced. They’d like to take it to the voters to determine how many it would take to sell off our greatest revenue producer.
Sure, it’s easy to say, “Let the voters decide.” But, lets face the truth, most voters don’t study the issues. They vote with their heart. A well-placed commercial or two talking about lower rates from an even bigger corporation or an editorial or two discussing the missteps taken by Lakeland Electric 15 years ago will sway lazy voters. (Not you, of course. You know the expectations we have for our readers.)
Elsewhere on Lakeland Local, Billy Townsend has written:
I am not qualified to determine if that’s a legitimate gripe. But if Publix thinks it’s a legitimate gripe, then I probably do, too. In fact, I more or less support a “Publix rule” for LE rates. If you employ a billion people and have the massive beneficial effect on this city that Publix does, you get to pay whatever the hell you want for power. I exaggerate, but only a little.
It should be obvious I take a much more cautious approach with Publix. They’ve a bit of dirt on those beautiful aprons. Just ask any tomato picker. But, I’m willing to listen if they can convince me that their savings won’t just come out of my pocket. If selling Lakeland Electric means Publix saves $25 million a year, I’ll bet $25 the price of my eggs won’t drop 25 cents. If selling Lakeland Electric means Publix will save $25 million a year, I’ll bet $25 your electric rate will rise faster than the price of eggs will drop. Worse yet, City Officials who’ll miss that $25 million a year will be forced to go hat-in-hand to some Publix official to get a new park and announce your tax rate must rise.
It’s simple. Right now we sell electricity to Publix. We get the profit. We use that profit to keep taxes lower. As soon as some out-of-town concern sells electricity to Publix, we lose the profit and we’ll have to make that money somewhere. Publix isn’t about to turn around and add it back to the city pot.
Or would they?
I have a proposition for Publix. Buy (a piece of) Lakeland (Electric). And, unlike the Chamber, this will do more than make good sense. It’ll make good dollars. I’d like to see Publix pay it forward.
Let’s establish a fund. All the big users of Lakeland Electric can contribute. Kick in a healthy amount to buy a piece of Lakeland Electric and get a rate that is the lowest in the state. Not by a lot, but enough so everyone in the state can point to Lakeland and write, “The Lowest Rate in the State… Guaranteed.” Kick in enough money so that the city can prepare for needed future Lakeland Electric upgrades.
Not only would Publix get a lower rate than they could from TECO, but let them have a person on the Utility Board. Someone who’d help guide and care for this local resource. Someone who’ll see the 10,000 foot view of Lakeland’s future. Someone who isn’t merely in Lakeland because Winter Haven wouldn’t give them a deal, but someone who is so intertwined with Lakeland that they’d sink or swim with the city. Someone local.
Because, that’s why we love Publix, isn’t it? They don’t always have the best price and they’re not always the most convenient. But they’re our local store. It’s important to buy local, don’t you think Publix?