Utility district increases budget

— The Okanogan County Public Utility District’s final 2014 budget is nearly $3 million more than the preliminary budget released this fall, but the budget for Enloe Dam was cut nearly in half.

“The amount of expenditures required for Enloe Dam in 2014 could vary based on appeals and court actions,” said Don Coppock, director of finance, accounting and administration. It has been reduced to $3.1 million, about $2.6 million lower than in the preliminary budget.

“The Enloe dollars initially in the budget were placeholders, and so we thought if it’s a placeholder, we can make it a smaller placeholder,” Commissioner Ernest Bolz said. “We thought, ‘Well, why have a big number in there if we really don’t need it?’

“At this point there’s still the potential for further litigation, so we aren’t including a final figure on that yet until we know we have an undisputed license. Then we’ll revisit that.”

Although the utility has a 50-year license for Enloe Dam through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a it has not made an official decision to move forward with reopening it. The federal commission rejected an appeal from American Whitewater to reconsider the license, leaving the organization until mid- to late-January to appeal in court.

Utility commissioners require board approval for all expenditures relating to the dam.

The $64.4 million estimated budget includes a capital outlay increase of nearly $3.7 million, for a total of $17.8 million.

The reason, Coppock said, is because the commissioners required the entire $9.4 million sum of the Pateros-Methow transmission line project to be included rather than a portion of it.

“That was part of the thought, that we were only going to get part of it done in 2014,” he said. “We got a directive from the board not to issue any more debt, so needed to make sure there were funds reserved for that project.”

The utility expects to spend about $2 million on the transmission line project this year, and the rest will be spent in 2015 to complete the line, Coppock said.

For other capital improvements, board approval will be needed before the utility can spend money on lower-priority projects.

Coppock said those projects “need to be addressed some time in the future, but if they need to be put off a year or two it won’t affect day to day operations of the company.”

Expenses were also cut by more than $1 million, primarily due to eliminating five positions that have been in the budget but not filled, such as a communications coordinator. The preliminary budget had added three positions, but two of those were removed, he said.

There are two less employees than in the 2013 budget, although there is a wage increase of 0.6 percent for union employees. No general wage increase has been worked into the budget.

Revenue is expected to be around $50.2 million. That includes an increase of $47,400 through conservation payments from the Bonneville Power Administration.

“We pay for conservation measures, and the BPA reimburses us,” Coppock said.

An increase of $3.6 million to $42.5 million has been added to retail electric sales, and wholesale electric sales have increased $474,900 to account for higher market pricing.

Expenditures are estimated at $42.8 million and debt service is $3.8 million, leaving around $3.6 million to allocate to capital projects. Funding the higher-priority projects will require the utility to take about $1.1 million from its rate stabilization fund, and another $10.2 million from its unrestricted cash and investments, Coppock said.

The expenses include $23.2 million for purchased power, a decrease of $149,000 from 2013 despite rate increases handed down from the Bonneville Power Administration.

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