The executive director of the Parker Street food bank wants Nova Scotia Power to set aside $40,000 for low-income ratepayers.

Mel Boutilier was among a dozen people who spoke at a Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board hearing Wednesday night.

The board is considering a request from the utility to raise rates an average of five per cent next year. It would mean $6 a month more for the typical residential customer, according to Nova Scotia Power.

Boutilier said that's too much for many families to pay.

"I'm prepared if they would provide some financial assistance that we would raise some money and we'd match what they would donate," he said.

A spokeswoman for Nova Scotia Power says the utility is continuing its Good Neighbour Energy Fund, administered by the Salvation Army. The utility contributes more than $100,000 a year to that program, with employees and donors adding to it.

The utility also has a policy not to disconnect customers during the winter months if they cannot pay their bills.

Greed or need?

The utility agreed to ask for a lower rate hike after striking a deal with its major customers and the province's consumer advocate. It now expects to bring in nearly $30 million less in revenue.

Several speakers at the hearing accused Nova Scotia Power of being greedy.

"Does Nova Scotia power have a responsibility to the community or is their lone goal profit at any cost?" said Harold McNeil, from Lantz. "Stay out of my pockets for charges that don't benefit me but increase shareholder payouts."

Karen Van Burkleo, from Boutiliers Point, shares his anger. She spoke out about "fat bonuses" at Emera, Nova Scotia Power's parent company.

"They have a brand new $53-million headquarters downtown. Their dividend payouts have increased every year since 1992," said Van Burkleo.

As part of the deal, Nova Scotia Power won't use money from ratepayers to cover executive bonuses. There is also no more money for tree trimming and storm repairs next year.

If approved, the rate hike would take effect on Jan. 1. It would be closer to seven per cent once conservation charges are factored in.

But the NewPage Port Hawkesbury and Bowater Mersey Paper Co. mills are asking for rate reductions, which could mean even higher rates for customers.