Electricity rates climbing for Grand Forks residents
The next bill Grand Forks residents receive for electricity will likely see a 9.9 percent hike on user fees. That was the final decision from council after receiving further information from staff on the electrical budget. Two weeks ago council rejected proposed rate increases of over 11 percent with further increases later in the year. This week, Chief Financial Officer Cecile Arnott returned to council with a report that outlined how the increase will allow council to recoup the money they have lost on electrical rates since Fortis increased wholesale electrical rates 6.6 percent in January. Since then, the city has been paying the higher rates, but charging users less than cost. In order to balance the budget, the 9.9 percent was proposed and the bylaw passed the first three readings. “The failure of that bylaw not only impacted the electrical utility, it also impacted the financial plan for general revenue,” said Councillor Christine Thompson who introduced the bylaw. “The annual financial plan gave our employees the authority to proceed with projects in 2011. Our staff had to put all of their plans on hold, and we’re going to have to go back and re-work the financial plan for those two funds. (Further) increases are not included in this bylaw.” In addition to the immediate increase, staff were directed by council to create a policy for their review that would create a process for future increases, or decreases, as needed. The policy would not replace discussion at council on increases as all rate changes must come to council as a bylaw for voting. When questioned whether council should be running utilities businesses, Thompson was clear that the benefits outweigh the additional work. “Some of that surplus goes into general revenues and helps to reduce property taxes that are levied,” said Thompson. “In my opinion I would far rather see those surpluses remain here, and be used to the benefit of the city and its taxpayers, then to be going to a company that’s listed on the Toronto stock exchange and divyed among its stockholders.”
Annual transfers to general revenues were about $360,000 last year and Arnott predicts about $386,000 for this year. These funds assist the city in keeping taxes down across the board. The proposed increase bylaw was presented with reports from Arnott. Electrical Consultant Alex Love was on hand to answer questions about the rates and to support Arnott.