The Okanogan County PUD board continued to discuss the 2020 budget at a Dec. 2 meeting, including the possibility of a 2 percent revenue increase and closing the Omak office to avoid a higher increase.
The revenue increase is necessary to cover the rising costs of operating the district and fund debt service payments for several infrastructure projects over the next several years. The exact rate increase per class (residential, general service, etc.) would be determined through a separate process after the budget is approved.
The staff and board also discussed raising the cost of power adjustment (COPA), as noted on customer bills, to pass through increases in the cost of power incurred to the district. The COPA is currently .54 cent per kilowatt-hour ($0.0054). Director of Finance and Accounting Don Coppock said a district resolution requires the COPA be adjusted for changes in power costs – at one point since it’s 2010 implementation, it has gone down to follow a cost decrease. The recommendation was to raise the COPA to six-tenths of a cent ($0.006) per kWh. That would mean about 60 additional cents for every 1,000 kWh used (the average home uses 1,200-1,500 kWh per month).
Closing the Omak office and not hiring a currently open customer service representative position would save the district about $84,000 annually. The office is a drive-thru only location that takes payments. Since the Okanogan office is nearby, and no other branches have nearby offices, district staff have recommended Omak’s closure to avoid additional rate increases. The current customer service staff member at Omak would still work for the district, but at an open location.
Commissioner Scott Vejraska said he couldn’t support fully closing the Omak office, and asked about other scheduling possibilities, whether just scaling back hours or trading off with another lower-traffic office. He said the amount of traffic through Omak’s office was second only to Okanogan’s.
There was also discussion about slowly closing the office, reducing the number of hours or days it is open while customers connect with other payment methods, such as SmartHub online or app-based payment, pay-by-phone or traveling to the Okanogan office.
Customer Service Supervisor Mindy Morris said there will always be a dropbox at the Omak location for payments, and if the office was closed, there would be a daily pick-up scheduled. Keeping the office open now is a challenge without another customer service representative on board, and that it sometimes has to close when more than 2 representatives are sick.
Earlier budgeting for 2020 called for a 4 percent revenue increase, but staff made cuts and delayed projects to reduce the increase to 3 percent, and then 2 percent. The budget hearing, including discussion on closing the Omak office, will continue at least once more until the next board meeting on Dec. 16.
In other business, the board:
- Heard from Jennifer Harper of Energy Northwest about partnerships they have to bring electric vehicle charging stations to areas around Washington state. Energy Northwest is interested in installing up to 4 stations in Okanogan County.
- Authorized the general manager to execute change order No. 9 of the Max J. Kuney Company Design-Build Contract, in an amount not to exceed $200,000 for the Enloe Dam Phase 1 Services, for additional site investigation work.
- Approved Resolution 1696, authorizing certain staff members to designate certain expenditures for potential reimbursement from bonds that may be approved in the future.
- Approved Resolution 1697 regarding the rate stabilization fund. The account will be funded to $6 million (already in the account), and staff will develop policies on withdrawing and replenishing the funds.
- Approved Resolution 1698, updating General Provisions, to add in a paragraph regarding the new process for high-density load customers.
- Approved first reading of Resolution 1699, establishing a vehicle replacement reserve account. The resolution would take an existing $135,000 in the rate stabilization fund (which is over the $6 million target amount) to establish the account, then it would be maintained with $75,000 monthly deposits from the district to fund vehicle replacements. The resolution will be heard again at the Dec. 16 meeting.
- Approved Resolution 1700, revising the collective bargaining agreement between the district and the IBEW Local No. 77 union. The 3-year contract would begin April 1, 2020. Commissioner Vejraska abstained from the vote.