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City Council approves CU budget, tables electric rate increase

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Springfield City Council members approved City Utilities' $520.7 million operating budget 6-1 on Sept. 21 but unanimously decided to table a vote related to an electric rate increase.

CU requested that council table the rate increase to provide more time to answer questions raised at previous council meetings, said CU General Manager John Twitty.

On Sept. 13, CU answered questions raised at a Sept. 7 public hearing on the requested rate increase of 7 percent for residential customers and between 2.5 percent and 7 percent for commercial customers, which would be carried out during the course of three years beginning October 2011. Now, Twitty said, there are follow-up questions to address.

“They were just verbally presented, so we’ll be in the process of getting those reduced to writing and then we’ll start working on responses,” he said. “I’d be working from memory … but they were questions along the lines of how can we help the community provide more support for (customers) who have trouble paying their utility bill, and about the multiyear aspects of these rates.”

The organization is focusing on questions raised by council members, he noted.

“As it happens, we occasionally don’t ask the right questions, so there were some follow- up questions,” said councilmember Robert Stephens, who introduced the motion to table the bill at Tuesday’s meeting. “There were more questions brought up today that will probably need to be put on the list.”

Separate from questions posed by council members were several from Carl Herd, member of the city's Police and Fire Pension Fund citizens' task force and former teacher. Herd passed out a list of questions, primarily related to CU benefits and wages, to media and city council members on Monday night. Twitty said he was unaware of Herd’s questions.

Twitty estimated it would take a week to answer the outstanding questions. As soon as the process is complete, CU or a council member will notify the City Clerk’s office that it is ready for the bill to be placed back on a council agenda.

Council members passed CU’s 520.7 million operating budget, with councilman Dan Chiles casting the only negative vote. Mayor Jim O’Neal and councilman Nicholas Ibarra were not at the Tuesday meeting.

“I’m voting against this budget, and I know it’s nothing that’s going to matter in the scheme of things because it will pass, but at the same time, it’s my small way of saying I think they can do better,” said Chiles, who listed several areas of forward thinking he would like to see in future CU plans, including bus route reform, a focus on compressed natural gas and its use on city buses and the development of an aggressive energy conservation program.

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