Assembly votes to raise electric rates
The borough assembly voted 5-1 to raise electric rates seven percent Tuesday.
The rates increases are aimed to off-set declines in the budget reserves of the electric light utility fund. Officials have said that increasing health insurance, labor, and materials costs have reduced the reserves to unacceptable levels.
Assembly newcomer Mark Mitchell cast the lone dissenting vote against the increase, motivated in part by fiscal concerns.
“I believe that, along with the rest of America, we need to hold a budget and watch our spending as well,” he said. “Without knowing all the facts, I wasn't willing to take a vote on increasing the rate.”
Rate increases have been mentioned as a possibility as early as March when officials mentioned them alongside Nolan Center funding decreases as potential short-term issues facing the budget.
An ordinance change passed last week included language which would have split an overall 10 percent increase into two, five-percent increases: an initial increase of five percent designed to off-set reserve declines caused by health insurance cost increases and a second Jan. 1, 2015 five-percent increase designed to off-set an anticipated elimination of the Southeast Alaska Power Agency (SEAPA) electric utility rebate, according to borough officials.
However, with the seven percent increase, the rates won't need to be raised a second time, regardless of SEAPA action on the rebates, said borough manager Jeff Jabusch.
“We needed that (five-percent increase) anyway,” he said. “If we didn't get the rebate in the fall … then we were looking January 1 at doing another one because otherwise the utility would have lost” about $300,000.
The change is in keeping with discussion from the June 10 assembly meeting when assembly members passed the ordinance on first reading while, at the same time, saying a mid-year increase could hurt consumers more than a larger one-time increase.
In other business, the borough assembly unanimously approved a draft ordinance related to tree harvesting in borough parks. The ordinance had been in the works since December 2013, when two trees were removed from near the Volunteer Park Trail to serve as Christmas trees.
The assembly also voted 4-2 to approve, on second reading, an ordinance change related to attendance for borough assembly members.
Assembly member Julie Decker objected to the change's disallowance of telephonic voting.
“I still believe that we should be able to vote by teleconference,” she said. “In fact, I think it should include videoconferencing possibilities. The research did show that other municipalities allowed for that. At the last meeting I brought it up.”
Assembly member Daniel Blake agreed to videoconferencing in principal.
“If it was videoconference then I wouldn't have a problem with that because you can see that person on there and know that's who you're talking to,” he said.
Videoconferencing would require a substantial technology upgrade, assembly member Pam McCloskey said.
“We'd have to have some sort of computer system to be able to watch this,” she said. “Are we gonna have them sitting down here or are we each going to have our own?”
In response, Decker tapped the side of an existing chalkboard in the assembly chambers within arm's reach, and said she hoped the borough would continue to examine the issue.
“I just think that's the new age,” she said.
The borough also voted to accept the resignation of James Stough, which created a membership vacuum on several committees for which Stough had served as the liaison.
McCloskey was eventually selected to replace Stough on the Code Review Committee, which she said she preferred over assuming Stough's duties as liaison to the hospital board, which she said she'd be unable to do because of a scheduling conflict. Mitchell was appointed to replace Stough on the Economic Development Committee.
The assembly also unanimously approved, on second reading, an ordinance spelling out which assembly members may contact the borough attorney and, on first reading, a house-keeping ordinance related to re-numbering sections of the borough code.
Mitchell also recused himself for the first time when the borough assembly considered a tidelands classification for property he owns near the former Silver Bay mill site. The assembly approved that request 5-0.
The assembly also voted unanimously to approve the submission to the State of Alaska for Municipal Entitlement of Lands and to approve the Conceptual Wrangell Trail Link Design Layout for a system of footpaths connecting prominent locations throughout the borough.