No rate hike from PUD

Not only has Northern Wasco County People’s Utility District staff proposed no rate increase for 2018, but they also recommend seasonal discounts for low income senior and disabled customers become year-round.

The proposals got their first airing in front of the PUD board on Tuesday. The board will meet again Nov. 28 at 6 p.m. to discuss it, before having a final meeting on Dec. 5, also at 6. Both meetings are at the PUD offices, 2345 River Rd., in The Dalles.

A large 9 percent rate increase done last May proved to be accurate in terms of covering costs. “It broke us even, exactly where we needed to be,” said PUD Chief Financial Officer Harvey Hall. “We hit the Goldilocks target.”

For low income senior and disabled customers, 359 get a 10 percent discount on their power bill, and 272 get a 35 percent discount. Extending this discount year-round is estimated to cost the PUD $24,000 a year, said Cyndi Gentry, corporate services director for the PUD.

The PUD had a cost of services analysis done in September that found a .1 percent rate increase was warranted. However, it would have only raised $11,000 for the utility, and Hall said, “when you’re within $11,000 on a $42 million budget, you’re pretty much break-even at that point.”

Of that $42 million budget, 70 percent is the cost of buying power from the Bonneville Power Administration, Hall said.

The PUD is also able to absorb the 6.22 rate increase charged to it this year by the BPA. “We do have municipal bond payments to make now, but we’ve been working hard to be effective and increase our efficiency so we’re very comfortable making these recommendations” to the board, PUD General Manager Roger Kline said in an email.

Also proposed is eliminating a small handling fee for people who want to pay electronically with debit or credit card. For residential customers who pay by card, the monthly bill will be reduced by $2.18 on average.

The system is also limited to accept payments up to $300, and with the harsh winter last year, some customers’ bills were over $300, meaning they had to make two payments and incur the handling fee twice, Gentry said.

The average residential customer – which is one who uses 1,300 kilowatt hours of power a month – pays $91.11 a month.

The PUD had no rate increases in residential rates for a decade, and only a small hike for commercial customers in the middle of that decade, before the large rate hike was instituted last May.

“It reached a point where we had to get working on the infrastructure,” Gentry said.

“We are very, very happy with, and proud of the work that staff has put in, the things they have accomplished over the last year,” Gentry said. They’ve been improving processes, connecting with customers, and creating efficiencies. “A lot of that work went into the lack of a rate increase this year. And we continue to work on that.”

“We know that last year stung a bit,” Gentry said. “After so many years of no rate changes, it’s difficult.”

She said, “This is a good place to level off for a moment and look at continuing operations.”

On the discounts for low income seniors and disabled customers, there is an expectation that more people will seek the discount now that it would apply to the summer months also.

“We recognize it’s not just winter months where people face financial challenges and need to make decisions” about where to put their money, Hall said.

Now, the discount runs from Nov. 1 to March 31. Participants are financially qualified through the Mid-Columbia Community Action Program.

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