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Water, electricity rates may jump

Christine Stanley

Rate payers take heed: Utility bills are about to take a jump. The Truckee Donner Public Utility District is proposing a 5 percent increase to both water and electric rates for its 2006 budget, plus an additional 2 percent increase on each utility to establish a reserve fund for future projects and expenses.For rate payers, that equates to about $6.40 a month for electricity and about $3.50 for water. Fees will also rise for developers of new properties in Truckee who plan to connect to water and electric supplies. The rate hike, however, isn’t coming without a fight. At the district’s meeting on Wednesday night, members of both the public and the district board expressed strong concerns on both sides of the proposal. “I didn’t think that staff made a real commitment to cut the budget and (consider) the recommendations that were made in each department,” said board member Pat Sutton. “I am not totally comfortable with the 5 percent increase. But I am in favor of the 2 percent reserve. I would vote yes on that.”And while district General Manager Peter Holzmeister maintained that he and his staff were prudent in their budget considerations, and that he supports the increases, he has also provided the board with a number of options for cutting costs within the district. He included options that range from not serving cookies at board meetings, to reducing safety equipment, to pulling $24,000 in funding from their biomass conservation project.”There is a lot of fat we could tighten our belt on,” said Joe Aguera, board vice president.Others are feeling that the belt has already been tightly cinched.”I will support the budget as it is presented,” said board president Ron Hemig. “The mistake last year was that we didn’t go up enough. I feel like this is the best that we can get in terms of the budget. We want to balance our rate increases so that they give us good service and reliability.”But in the wake of economic downtrends as a result of 9/11 and the recent hurricanes, are rate-payers willing to foot the bill?Truckee resident Juanita Schneider contended that although she is living on a fixed income, it is important for her to see the municipality grow and prosper, citing a large-scale budget and big projects such as broadband cable installation as good reason to increase revenue.Others, however, weren’t as supportive of the increases.”When you raise rates you have to provide justification,” said Geoff Sullivan Stephens, general manager of the Glenshire/Devonshire Residents Association. “In the last four years, rates have gone up over 20 percent on both sides. Two years ago they had a $2 million surplus and they spent it on capital and raised rates. They haven’t made great decisions.”Before the board approves the proposed budget, they will first hold a public input meeting on Jan. 4. The board will then – based on customer feedback – move ahead with a decision to either lower the rate increases or move forward with the budget as is. CHECK IT OUTPublic input meetingJan. 4, 7:00PUD boardroom ***SIDEBAR NOT COMPLETE***BREAKOUTSome major items are on the agenda for 2006 and the years following that will demand increased resources–resources that might not be available without a rate hike. Maintenance:Up-keep and replacement costs for 44 square-miles of water and power lines are starting to wear on the district. “One of the elements that people tend to forget about is that whatever we put in the ground has a limited lifecycle, and is going to need to be replaced,” said Water Utility Manager Ed Taylor in a previous interview. “We have a lot of leaks that we repair every year, and we are at the point where we need a bigger replacement program.”Contracts:The PUD is currently under contract to receive energy from Constilation Energy, but that agreement will cease at the end of 2007, and between now and then the PUD will need to enter into a new energy contract. “The primary purpose for the 2 percent electric rate increase, is to create a rate stabilization fund,” said general councilman Steven Gross. “We need to get some money banked so that if there in an increase in the power supply cost in 2008, there will be money in the fund to off-set the difference.” Broadband total costs for project. Start-up costs. Legal fees. Where is this money coming from? Wage increases who is asking for what, and what are they going to get and whenLoans: The PUD is still paying off $3.5 million every year on an expensive long-term electric contract with Idaho Power that the district bought out for $25 million in 2003. At its current rate, the obligation will be paid off in 2012.


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