PUD readies for budget hearing Oct. 1

Leader staff news@ptleader.com
Posted 9/25/18

The Jefferson County Public Utility District plans to present its budget to the public Oct. 1. The PUD’s newest wrinkles from last year include a proposed $4 million consolidation and expansion of …

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PUD readies for budget hearing Oct. 1

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The Jefferson County Public Utility District plans to present its budget to the public Oct. 1. The PUD’s newest wrinkles from last year include a proposed $4 million consolidation and expansion of its facilities.

The PUD’s 2019 budget estimates $39.1 million in operating revenue and $38.6 million in operating expenses, with the single largest expense for the PUD coming from the purchase of electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration, accounting for 46 percent of the total budget. Taxes, debt financing and depreciation account for 29 percent of the budget, with staffing and operations taking the smallest share at 25 percent.

According to PUD General Manager Larry Dunbar, 2019’s operations budget is largely status quo from 2018, with increases in both revenues and expenses roughly equal to standard cost of living adjustments.

However, Dunbar sought to bring a new approach to the allocation of the PUD’s cash reserves and capital expenditures.

Beginning the process not long after his arrival at Jefferson PUD, Dunbar consulted with commissioners and staff to identify about a dozen of what he called “strategic objectives” that formed the basis for 2019 spending discussions.

Dunbar designated nearly half of the PUD’s $17.7 million in cash reserves between these objectives, retaining another $8.75 million to cover 90 days of operating expenses, as legally required, and $1.1 million as an undesignated cushion.

$9.5 million dollars is to be split between projects, studies, equipment and maintenance: $4 million for facility remodeling and additions, $750,000 for tree trimming, $500,000 for a planned community solar project, $300,000 for comprehensive planning projects, $135,000 for expanded safety and training investments, and another $600,000 for vehicles and equipment.

“My guiding principles were to deliver a revenue-positive budget and maintain our key financial ratios without any rate increases, and that’s what we have done,” Dunbar said. “I also wanted to craft a budget that showed a renewed commitment to customer service, safety, reliability and planning. I think we’ve done that too.”

About the largest designated capital expenditure, a proposed $4 million facility consolidation and expansion project, Dunbar said, “It was clear to me coming in, and even clearer after just a few months on the job, that the PUD has to do something about its facilities. We are in a situation right now where we don’t have enough space for our employees to work, and the spaces we do have are either spread out across the county, or substandard, or both.”

“The board and I are planning to consolidate all of our staff onto our Four Corners property, through a combination of remodel and new construction,” Dunbar said. “Our plan is to fund the project out of cash reserves. We would begin building in early 2019 and finish in 2020.”

The PUD is currently working with TCF Architects on the design.

On Oct. 1, Dunbar plans to present the budget to the board at a special public hearing held at 5 p.m. at the Jefferson Transit Center. If the board has no questions or changes, they can vote to adopt the budget that night.

Dunbar stated that the board was receptive to the first draft, and he did not expect much to change before Oct. 1.

Dunbar did wish to note that, while he didn’t propose any utility rate increases in 2019, some PUD fees will increase.

Currently, the PUD only charges about half of the cost to install new electrical service to customers.

Dunbar would like to see the PUD recover all its costs, and will be proposing a two-year phase in of fee increases to achieve this, with a 75 percent cost recovery proposed in 2019.  

“Industry standard is generally 100 percent recovery” said Dunbar. “We charge 100 percent on the water side already, which is financially sustainable, fairer and more equitable to all ratepayers.”

Regarding questions about the PUD’s smart meter initiative, Dunbar clarified that no funding was included for system-wide meter replacement in 2019.

“We need to replace our electrical metering system, and soon, but next year, we’ve chosen to focus on customer service, safety, reliability, planning, and the facility consolidation and expansion project,” Dunbar said. “We will have to address metering in future years, but not 2019.”

More information, as well as a PowerPoint presentation of the 2019 budget proposal, can be found on the PUD’s website at jeffpud.org.

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