Initial approval to utility rate hike

The five members of the City Council attending the meeting of Tuesday, July 6, unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance providing for an increase in the city’s utilities. Effective in October the utilities increase for the average household would be approximately $10.70 per month. It would be the first utilities increase since a similar rate study in 2013. Voting for the approval of the first reading were Councilpersons Judy Murphy, Angie Nolte, Anthony Nussbaum, John Vaughn and Jim Wisdom. Not attending the meeting were Mike Dougherty, Don Ferguson and Steve Scholl. The second reading of the ordinance will be July 18 and the third and final reading on Aug. 1. The proposed increase was unanimously recommended by the Board of Public Works. JK Energy Company of Lincoln conducted the extensive study of rates. A rate study is done every three years, the last being in 2013. JK Energy noted that the proposed increase goals for the next three years are fair and reasonable rates competing with neighboring utilities and ensuring sufficient revenue to cover expenses and return on investment. Inflation and debt service for capital improvements are major reasons for the increases. Utility Supt. Alan Romine noted; “We’re keeping everything up to date and keeping our infrastructure in good repair.” Mayor Jerry Oliver added; “We’re trying to catch up on deferred maintenance.” A breakdown of the necessity for increases in the four utility departments follows: Electric: Increases of 8 percent both this year and next, and 3.5 percent the following year. The major increase is due to the purchase of a $12 million 9-megawatt generator at the power plant. The last time a new generator was added was in 1981. The electric rate will be up $6.11 per month per household this year beginning Oct. 1. The electric rate will still be lower than neighboring utilities including OPPD, NPPD, Auburn and Nebraska City. Water: The increase will be 10.5 percent per month. The increase is due to the construction of a new $5 million water well and treatment plant improvements. The well is in its final phase of construction with pumps still to be added. It will add about $2.76 per month to the average household’s utility bill. The last well was constructed in 1971. Waste Water: A jump of about 4 percent this year. It will add about $1.11 per month to the average customer’s utility bill. Natural Gas: An increase of about 2.9 percent per month due to inflation.

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