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City opts not to buy back poles

After an unexpected rate increase and a public apology from Portland General Electric, the Estacada City Council decided against buying the city’s street lamp poles back from the utility.

The council pondered the matter during its meeting on Monday, April 28.

Here’s the situation: A couple of years ago the city sold its street lamp poles to PGE with assurances that the company would maintain the poles and the city would only have to pay a monthly fee for lighting.

PGE paid $149,755 for the poles last year. City Manager Bill Elliott explained in a later interview that the money has been sitting in the street fund and has not yet been used.

Elliott said city officials had been aware when they sold the poles that the monthly rate for lighting would increase slightly.

However, officials hadn’t realized that the pole rental rate paid by the city would jump by 88 percent, much higher than anticipated, Elliott said.

The increase disproportionately affected Estacada compared to PGE’s other jurisdictions.

Annette L. Mattson, a PGE representative for government affairs and public policy, apologized on behalf of the company during the April 28 council meeting for the unexpected increase.

“We had frankly dropped the ball internally to communicate exactly what that meant to some individual customers,” Mattson said, adding that the company had “never run into this situation before.”

“We apologize profusely for that mistake on our part and that is something that will certainly not happen again,” Mattson said in regard to not catching that the rate hike would disproportionately affect Estacada.

In what Mattson said was an “unusual move,” PGE offered the city the opportunity to buy back the poles for $130,145.

The Public Utility Commission would have to hold a hearing and approve the sale, as the poles are an asset worth more than $100,000.

Estacada’s street lighting bill would be reduced by $1,700 a month if it owned the poles.

However, once the poles became old or damaged PGE would replace them and they would once again belong to PGE.

Councilor Sean Drinkwine said he would prefer not to buy back the poles so to keep the $149,755 in the restricted fund, alluding that he would prefer to have the tangible money now rather than variable future savings.

Estacada Mayor Brent Dodrill said it was unusual for a city of Estacada’s size to have that much money sitting at its disposal.

Councilor Emil Hnidey said he’d prefer to buy back the poles and adjust for the rate increases over time. He compared the situation to tax return: Take larger deductions each month for a bigger return.

Councilor Michele Conditt, Drinkwine, Dodrill and Councilor Rob Gaskill voted not to buy back the poles.

Hnidey was the lone vote in favor of purchasing them back from PGE.



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