CL city council delays utility rate increase

By SUE RYAN

News staff writer

August 16, 2006

Despite a recommendation from a citizen’s utility commission, the Cascade Locks city council voted Monday night to postpone an electric rate increase of five percent from Aug. 20 to Nov. 20.

The city had begun the rate increases to supplement its reserve account and start bringing the city’s power company out of a steadily increasing deficit.

The increases were to supplement the city’s reserves and would follow a rate hike of 10 percent last April.

City Councilor Arni Kononen, who attended a workshop last week with the committee, said he felt taking care of the need in one year alone was too much.

“I would like to propose delaying this rate increase for three months … at this point (Nov. 20) we may find out where we really stand,” Kononen said.

He took issue with the math presented to the council at last week’s workshop and said his take was that the city was not as much in the red for its electric plant as presented.

“I feel we are pretty well flat at this point,” he said.

Initially the city had planned automatic rate hikes of five percent on Aug. 20 and additional increases of three percent in April 2007 and April 2008.

“The utility rate committee did review it, they didn’t see any other option,” said city manager Bob Willoughby.

In 2002, the city began to lose money, with its utility ending in the red by $5,742. The pattern continued in following years, with losses of $64,061 in 2003, $105,670 in 2004, $92,491 in 2005 and an estimated loss of $137,303 for 2006.

Cascade Locks resident Sandra Kelley was the only member of the public who spoke on the rate increase at the meeting. She also attended last week’s workshop. She repeated points made then about the city examining cutting operations before raising rates any further. She urged council members, before they voted, to understand their responsibility on the issue.

“We need to hold our city council people accountable as our Public Utility Commission,” she said.

Mayor Ralph Hesgard said he would like to see councilor Kononen and the city’s finance officer Kate Mast get together to compare figures. Councilor Lee Kitchens asked to hear from City Light Superintendent Tracy Hupp.

He said the figures were not incorrect but that comparing calendar years to fiscal years may have resulted in a misunderstanding.

“My recommendation is to go ahead with a five percent increase … we are not staying even,” he said.

The council approved a resolution establishing a fee for city street lighting to be consistent for commercial businesses, approved OLCC Liquor License renewals, approved a contract accepting a wildfire prevention grant, and approved a contract for the “Savings with a Twist” energy conservation program. That contract was approved based on the condition that the list of vendors include Cascade Locks merchants.

“All the vendors on the list are in Hood River or White Salmon,” said Councilor Rob Brostoff. “We have a perfectly good hardware store in town … before I’ll vote on this I need to see a local vendor on that list.”

Following the council’s meeting, they entered into a public workshop session to tackle several subjects. On one topic, city manager Bob Willoughby updated the council on the technical reports for the proposed casino.

“We have received air quality and have two left to review,” he said.

Willoughby said the technical studies, for the most part, determine no significant impact from the potential casino on Cascade Locks. He also mentioned newspaper reports on recent polls done in the community indicating 68 percent of residents don’t want the casino in town.

“It’s the second push poll designed to influence answers done in two years,” he said. “I’ll take seriously the poll when they release their questions the same as the city has done.”

The council also discussed a request for a street name change by Mimi Morrisette to change Undine Street to Sternwheeler Drive, a draft cooperative assistance agreement with Hood River County, a review of the USDA Audit Report on the city’s sewer system, and regional dialogues by the Bonneville Power Administration.

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