Council OKs hike in city electric rate

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

The electric bill for an average local family is expected to go up approximately $5 per month as a result of utility rate changes approved June 2, by the Pawhuska City Council.

In voting to increase the municipal rate by one cent per kilowatt hour, council members pointed to the fact that 2007 was the last time the local electric rate was raised. Since then, the city has been absorbing about one half of a percent each year in additional costs for providing the utility services.

City Manager Paul McAlexander had proposed hiking the rate by a half penny per kilowatt hour, but council members voted in support of doubling that amount.

“I think we should go up a little more,” Mayor Roger Taylor said. “If we do that, we might be able to make it a couple of years before having to think about raising it again.”

McAlexander estimated that the extra penny on the rate charge will bring in around $250,000 a year in additional municipal revenue.

Although he agreed to support the proposal, Councilman Travis Finley expressed his concerns for citizens who will face financial challenges to pay the higher electric bills.

“It’s something I think we’ve go to do,” said the Rev. Finley said. “But, still, I’m all for Social Security people, too.”

Another pastor/councilman, Mark Buchanan, said he did not have a problem with voting to increase the rate, considering that it has been seven years since the city asked for the last one.

“I think we’ve held it down for so many years, and now we really have no other choice,” said Buchanan.

When he initially suggested the rate hike last month, McAlexander also had voiced concerns about the effects the higher bills would have on fixed-income customers. The rate-hike proposal was necessary, however, because of declining sales tax revenues which have left the city approximately $700,000 over budget for the current fiscal year, he said.

In order to cope with the financial situation brought about by the sales-tax shortfall, the city also is looking at an increase in local water rates.

A municipal hiring freeze also is being considered, officials said.

Even with the electric rate increase, the city will be charging less than most of the other communities in the area, McAlexander added.

“We’re still going have one of the lowest rates around,” the city manager said.

Taylor said the council’s approval of the higher rate could help the city avoid problems in the future.

“If we had to raise it again in six months, that would be even worse,” Taylor said.