In the constant barrage of circulars, credit card offers and other unsolicited mailings sent to DeKalb residents, Gas South’s letters stand apart.
Located in the upper left corner of the envelope, as well as the top of the flier that peddles Gas South’s service, is DeKalb County’s official seal.
It’s a marketing deal that has some residents questioning why their county government is in the advertisement business, but it became standard practice across the nation years ago. Local governments have long sought to make money from ads plastered on the sides of school buses, at bus stops and inside utility bills.
“It appeared as though they’re favoring one competitor and getting into free enterprise,” said Don Weston, a Decatur-area resident who voiced skepticism about the arrangement on Facebook. “It smells bad, and they shouldn’t be doing it, especially in light of recent problems in the county with ethics.”
Over the past four years, Gas South has sent solicitation mailings to DeKalb’s 190,000 water and sewer customers. Residents who sign up receive a two-cents-per-therm discount, and the company pays a fee to the county for each customer that enrolls — $12 for every new residential customer and $24 for each new commercial customer.
The county uses the money raised from the deal to buy supplemental life insurance for police officers, providing $91,307 over the past two years for policies to pay benefits to the estates of officers who lose their lives in the line of duty. During the first two years of the partnership, the county collected about $110,000 that was used for general governmental purposes.
“We are proud to partner with DeKalb County to provide some peace of mind to officers and their families, and it’s a way for us to give back to those who put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe,” said Gas South CEO Kevin Greiner in a statement.
Gas South is the only company that has taken advantage of access to DeKalb’s mailers, though the program is open to other businesses, according to DeKalb officials.
Gas South has similar deals with Cobb EMC, the Clayton County Water Authority and the cities of College Park, Kennesaw, Lilburn, Norcross, Roswell, Sandy Springs, Smyrna and others. The city of Atlanta works with a company called Service Line Warranty of America, which sends mailers to water and sewer customers offering them financial assistance with repairs if their water lines break.
In the time since Gas South has been making donations to the DeKalb Police Alliance, which administers the insurance policies, its customer base has grown by about 9 percent both statewide and in DeKalb, according to the company. The company has about 300,000 customers across Georgia.
The program has raised money for DeKalb’s government at no cost to taxpayers, said county Budget Director Jay Vinicki.
The Georgia Public Service Commission monitors gas marketers for customer service and quality of service, and it isn’t investigating Gas South’s mailers, said spokesman Bill Edge.
“If it’s a reduction in rates, it’s perfectly legal for them to do that,” Edge said.
Still, Weston said he and his neighbors worry about the cozy relationship between Gas South and the government.
“It may all be on the up and up, and it may be a way to garner revenue not from the taxpayer, but it doesn’t look right,” Weston said.