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Columbia River PUD reviews $33.6M in spending

No rate increases planned for 2015, despite rising power costs

Photo Credit: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Sheila Duehring, accounting manager for the Columbia River PUD, outlines proposed expenditures for 2015. The budget proposes to stave off rate increases to customers in 2015.  Columbia River People’s Utility District proposes to spend $33.6 million in 2015, without raising power rates to customers.

A 2015 budget proposal was laid out for the PUD’s board of directors and the public Tuesday, Nov. 18. The proposed budget would leave just over $8 million in reserves for the district, but it would also cost the district about $300,000 in cost absorption by not passing rising power and transmission costs onto customers, according to general manager Kevin Owens and accounting manager Sheila Duehring.

“We start from scratch every year,” Owens said. “There is no built-in rate increase for next year that has been discussed or contemplated ... The approach we took is to defer to the new board on that once they have new information.”

Unlike most public agencies in Oregon, the PUD’s fiscal year starts at the beginning of each calendar year, not July 1.

The power district raised its rates by about 4.6 percent in 2013, in accordance with a 9.3 percent transmission rate increase from the Bonneville Power Administration, which the PUD buys its power from. About 80 percent of the electricity provided to its customers is generated from hydropower, according to the district.

While the district previously talked about the possibility of raising rates in 2015, PUD officials said Wednesday they would conduct a rate study but plan to absorb the additional costs of next year’s planned 6.7 percent power cost increase and 6 percent transmission cost increase from the BPA.

Kevin Owens.“Our total operating expenses since 2011 have remained relatively flat,” Owens said. “They’re primarily driven by power costs.”

In 2015, the district expects to spend about 55 percent of its budget on power. In addition to buying power to supply to the district’s 18,650 customers, the PUD’s next biggest expense is payroll and benefits.

Public Employees Retirement System increases next year will cost the district an extra $48,000. Columbia River PUD spends 60 percent of its controllable expenses on its 49 employees.

Lately, employees have been at the forefront of discussions at the PUD. The district has also been the target of public criticism over pay for managers and high turnover rates.

The district is currently investigating at least one employee complaint. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries is investigating two additional claims against the district.

In addition to payroll expenses, about $2.8 million is budgeted for capital improvements the district considers “controllable costs,” including $90,000 in improvements and repairs as part of a $1 million building remodel that was mostly completed in 2013.

A public hearing to discuss the 2015 budget is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 16.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated the amount by which Columbia River PUD raised its rates in 2013. Its rates went up by 4.6 percent, while its wholesale power supplier, the Bonneville Power Administration, raised its transmission prices by 9.3 percent. The PUD also says its PERS costs are increasing by $48,000, slightly less than the number in the original version of the story. The story has been corrected.

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