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January 23, 2021

11/27/2020 2:01:00 PM
Water and Light billing revisions complicated

The North Branch Water and Light Commission is recommending to the city council that the electric usage rate for 2021 be reduced by three percent.  Another commission request is that the city ordinance describing utility billing be revised extending time for making payment, to the 22nd day of the month before a bill is designated “late.”  Currently it is the 15th of the month.

Under the Governor’s Emergency Orders now in effect, there are no late penalty fees assessed for non-payment of public utilities at this time. Water and Light Commissioners saw this time-out in fines and fees as an opportune time to tinker with billing language.

The city council will be asked to act on these revisions hopefully before 2021 Water and Light payments begin.

The electric cooperative that North Branch Water and Light belongs to -- SMMPA-is making the electric reduction possible by dropping its new costs to members for next year.   North Branch utility leaders  are passing the savings along.

A more complicated matter, that wasn’t acted on, involved a motion by the former utility commission.  The old three member group had voted to add $5 to billing as a “base service fee,” boosting this line to $25.  Not much later,  in December 2019, the old commission then voted to eliminate $5 per billing  to enact a cut for customers, which showed up in the utility’s March 2020 statement.  

The new utility General Manager Scott Hautala has no clarity on exactly which account (not tied to actual usage), this $5 reduction was supposed to come out of. Last week he asked the utility commissioners if they could shed some light on this.
The utility has a basic service fee and it has a water tower improvement account, built-up by directing $25 from billings into this fund.  Commissioner Tom Hals said his own personal billing reflected that the $5 loss was out of the basic service fee in noticing the decrease there.

If that was indeed the intention implementing the $5 reduction then ALL units (consumers) need to see that reduction.  The service fee is assessed to each unit, GM Hautala told the commissioners. In order “To treat everybody fairly” he said,  the $5 needs to come off each unit in an apartment for example. A net result of $40 in savings, and not just $5 off an entire eight-unit (theoretical) billing would result.

The utility staff will continue to research and report back.  Multi-unit accounts could see the $5 reduction applied multiple times.

The commission voted 5-0 to hire Abdo Eick Meyers for the utility auditing firm. The three year contract is $48,000 plus incidental extras, etc.

The commissioners had heard from three companies responding to requests for proposals.

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