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Hillsboro electric rates hiked despite councilor's objection

Increase to hit schools hardest, administrator says

News editor

When Hillsboro city council member Bob Watson made the motion Monday to raise Hillsboro’s electric rates, council member Shelby Dirks short-circuited a second by jumping in to express his dissatisfaction with the move.

Dirks made clear his position that budget cuts should be used to balance the electricity equation, rather than foisting a rate hike on consumers.

“I’m opposed to this, after looking at the budget in several areas,” Dirks said. “Especially salaries and benefits. Over the last seven years they’ve increased over 44 percent.”

The across-the-board rate hike would hit some people harder than others, Dirks argued.

“There are areas in the budget that can be cut to offset this increase and not put the burden on your fixed income, low income, and small businesses,” he said. “I find it kind of ironic we’re going to be talking about an economic development job description at the same time we’re talking about electric increases. Those two just don’t go hand-in-hand.”

Dirks’ statement was a stark contrast to the relative silence from the council as City Administrator Larry Paine laid out the rationale for raising residential and commercial rates from 10.999 to 12.120 cents per kilowatt hour.

Vigorous discussion at a prior council meeting led Paine to rework his original proposal, laying out alternatives for a fixed rate increase and one that would vary for summer and winter months.

“My recommendation is that you use the 12-month fixed and not the summer rate, primarily for this calendar year,” Paine said.

Implementing a summer rate this year would raise more money than the city needs for the budget, which would run counter to his position not to do anything to raise cash reserves this year, Paine said.

A summer rate would hit higher-use customers Tabor College and USD 410 hard, Paine said.

“They have budgeted amounts for their electricity and this would significantly increase their costs,” he said.

Both proposals would have hit budget targets, Paine said, and a summer-winter rate plan could be considered again in 2016.

The council approved the fixed rate increase plan on a 3-2 vote, with Watson, David Loewen, and Delores Dalke voting for it, and Dirks and Byron McCarty voting against it.

In other business:

  • The historic water tower will be repaired and re-topped after the council approved a low bid of $159,360 from Maguire Iron of Sioux Falls, South Dakota to do the work. The bid came in well under the $197,300 estimate.
  • A new job description for economic development director was approved, a prelude to beginning a search to replace incumbent director Clint Seibel when he retires in June.
  • A sound permit was approved for the Taborstock music festival May 9.

Last modified April 9, 2015

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