TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Kansas’ investigation into price gouging during last year’s winter deep freeze is still open one year later.
State Treasurer Lynn Rogers is calling on Attorney General Derek Schmidt for answers.
In a press conference Wednesday morning, Rogers was joined by Annie Kuether, ranking Minority Leader on the House Utilities Committee. Both said no action had been taken.
“Just wait for answers, trust us. I don’t think that’s a good answer for citizens or elected officials,” Rogers said. “We need to be doing our job.”
A spokesperson for the Kansas Attorney General’s office told Kansas Capitol Bureau in an email that the investigation is still “active and ongoing” as they work to move forward.
“As we previously stated would be the case, counsel with specialized expertise has been retained pursuant to a request for proposals as required by law. The investigation is active and ongoing. We have no further comment at this time.”John Milburn, Office of Attorney General Derek Schmidt
Rogers said the open-ended investigation is causing cities and customers to carry out the cost on large utility bills. Laura Guy, a former school board representative for the Shawnee-Mission School District, said the bill that came in during last year’s February cold snap was “astronomically” larger than what they had budgeted for.
“We budgeted $600,000 for last year. The one bill from February was $1.6 million just for that one month. We were able to reduce it, and it’s still larger than any bill we’ve ever paid,” Guy said.
A coalition of 177 other school districts joined together last year to negotiate costs. Guy said her district was not part of the coalition but reached an agreement to lessen the blow.
Cities were also impacted by the freezing temperatures, facing sky-high utility bills. Fifty-four cities and one municipal energy agency applied, and more than $78 million in loans were approved and funded. So far, only two have repaid their loans in full.
According to the Treasurer’s office, if the investigation wraps up and there is evidence of price gouging found, a settlement could be reached with natural gas suppliers. It would lower the cost that cities and customers pay back.
Winfield received a loan from the state but still owes more than $7 million. The cost is trickling down to customers. Brandon Tucker, a resident, said his bills cost hundreds of dollars more than before.
“I would have to work three jobs right now to be able to pay it off,” Tucker said. “Even if I grab a factory job, it’s not going to be enough.”
Rep. Kuether said without conclusions from the investigation, the future for some cities and customers is unclear. For example, many cities will have to pay back large loan amounts from the state and depending on how fast they decide to pay the money back, customers could see larger utility bills.
“It was a very tough time, but we need to find out how to avoid having that happen again and what we can do about it, and we’re not getting any direction at this point,” Kuether said.