Grant County PUD budget subject of public hearing

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Cheryl Schweizer/Columbia Basin Herald Grant County PUD chief financial officer Jeff Bishop details the PUD’s 2018 budget at a public presentation Tuesday.

MOSES LAKE — The Grant County PUD is projecting a budget of $263,847,000 in 2018. The proposed budget was presented to utility district patrons at public hearings in Moses Lake and Ephrata Tuesday.

The final budget presentation for PUD patrons is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the Headquarters Office building at Wanapum Dam.

The PUD plans to spend $85,841,000 on a continuing, two-decade project to upgrade turbines and generators at its two hydroelectric projects, Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams. Operation and maintenance of the electric system was budgeted at $111,209,000.

Building and repairing the electrical system (electric capital expenses) was budgeted at $47,240,000. Debt service is the payback of money borrowed for past and current projects; that’s budgeted at $93,017,000.

The PUD also pays state and federal taxes. For 2018 tax payments are budgeted at $17,332,000.

Expenditures are 12 percent below the 2017 expenses, explained PUD chief financial officer Jeff Bishop. That includes a decrease in the number of employees, part of a plan to shrink the workforce to the equivalent of 590 by 2021. Currently it’s the equivalent of 605 employees, he said. The PUD doesn’t plan layoffs; rather, employees won’t be replaced as they leave or retire.

The budget includes a 2 percent overall rate increase. Individual rate classes may get an increase that's more or less than 2 percent, but the overall increase will be two percent.

The PUD is projected to end 2018 with $164,875,000 in electric system liquidity, and that money has been the subject of conversation, including at Tuesday’s meeting in Moses Lake.

Utility district commissioners voted in 2014 to increase rates by 2 percent per year for 10 years. A district patron attending the budget hearing asked how much cash was enough.

“How deep do you want to be in debt?” said commissioner Larry Schaapman.

About 64 percent of the PUD’s expenses are allocated for the upgrades at Wanapum and Priest Rapids and paying the debt associated with the capital program, Bishop said. Such a big (and expensive) project requires the PUD to borrow money.

Qualifying for the most favorable interest rates requires the PUD to meet a set of standards. Currently, the substantial amount of cash on hand helps the PUD meet those standards. Without it the PUD wouldn’t qualify for the more favorable interest rates, he said.

The 2018 budget includes money to maintain the current fiber optics system, but not expand it, Bishop said. Utility district officials have started a promotion program to increase fiber optic usage inside the area with fiber.

Cheryl Schweizer can be reached via email at education@columbiabasinherald.com.

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