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Electric rate hikes likely coming soon

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Villagers are likely to see a hike in their electric bill within a few months, if Council approves a recommendation from its electric consultant to raise rates.

“With the exception of a few large power customers, everyone’s bill will go up,” Consultant John Courtney said at Council’s Feb. 1 meeting.

Council will discuss the rate hike recommendation further at its March 7 meeting, then vote on it on March 21. The delay is linked to concerns that villagers need time to understand the coming change, according to Council President Karen Wintrow.

“There needs to be more time for public input,” Wintrow said. “We haven’t been clear that there will be a rate hike.”

Overall, Courtney, of the firm Courtney and Associates, recommended an increase of 9 percent in revenues for the electric fund, including a 12.7 percent raise for residential customers. The reason is that revenues are not keeping up with expenses, according to Courtney, who was charged by Council to make rate recommendations about a year ago.

If Council approves the recommendation, a residential customer who uses 500 kilowatt hours monthly — an average amount of residential use — would see a monthly bill of $67.33 rather than the current $59.58, an increase of about $8 monthly, or almost $100 a year.

A small commercial customer that uses 1,000 kilowatt hours monthly would see a monthly bill of about $134.65, a $13 increase over the current bill of $121.15, according to the recommendation.

Some large power customers will see their bills drop, however, since the recommendation states that some are currently paying too much. For instance, a customer using 75,000 kilowatt hours monthly would see a bill of about $7,706 monthly, compared to the current $7,719, a drop of about $13 a month or about $136 a year.

The electric rate hike is the last in a series of rate hikes this year for Village utility customers. In November, Council approved a 30 percent hike this year for water rates, with an additional 30 percent hike in the following two years, so that water customers will see an increase of about 100 percent in their bills over a period of several years. At the same time Council approved a 15 percent rate hike in sewer costs this year, followed in the next three years by additional 15 percent hikes. The problem, Council members said at the time, is that water rate increases had not kept up with needs and that some funds, such as sewer and electric, had not seen rate hikes in some time. Water rates were also affected by revenues needed to complete the new Village water plant, estimated to cost about $5.8 million.

In terms of the electric fund, revenues in 2015 were $3,204,904, while expenses were $3,892,314, a shortfall of about 21 percent, according to Courtney’s report. In 2016, revenues are projected at $3,885,372 while expenses are projected at $4,230,577, a shortfall of $345,205, or almost 9 percent. While revenues fall short, the electric fund does have the largest surplus of all Village utility funds, with a projected balance in 2016 of about $2.6 million. And while the surplus is healthy, it is needed to make long-deferred upgrades in the electric system, according to Assistant Village Manager Meilssa Vanzant.
The residential rate hike includes an increase in the monthly customer charge from about $10 per month to a total of $15 per month over five years, with a $1 increase per year. That charge, which is seperate from power costs, aims to cover operational expenses of the electric utility, according to Courtney.

While it’s impossible to predict power costs in a changing market, it is clear that there will be some increase because several hydro projects included in the Village energy portfolio are coming online this year, and there are initial cost hikes with those projects. However, according to Courtney, the power cost hikes should be mainly felt in the initial year and then stabilize, as compared to the continuing upheaval in costs for coal plants, which Courtney projected would only increase. Village leaders signed on to hydro power, which will account for more than 50 percent of the Village portfolio, several years ago in an effort to include as much renewable energy as possible in the Village portfolio, a choice that Courtney said should eventually prove fiscally wise.

In other Council Feb. 2 business:
• Council unanimously passed a resolution agreeing to “strongly consider recommendations from Ms. Morgan’s third-grade class based upon their educational research.” The Mills Lawn class had spent about two months on a project-based learning, or PBL, project, focused on local government, including interviews with Village leaders and staff. In their recommendation, the students urged Council to consult with students when addressing topics that affect young people in the village.

“Kids have ideas that will affect other kids who live in town,” said class member Ayla Adoff in a statement to Council. And according to Miles Gilchrist, “Council should support our resolution because kids have different perspectives about problems.”

See the Feb. 11 News for a more detailed look at the class project, along with other items on Council’s Feb. 1 agenda.


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