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WG&L board wants better accounting of rate changes

From left, Water, Gas & Light Commission board member Chad Warbington, Assistant General Manager for Administration Lee Hauesler and interim General Manager James Taylor discuss budget matters during a called meeting of WG&L's Finance Committee Wednesday. (June 19, 2013)

From left, Water, Gas & Light Commission board member Chad Warbington, Assistant General Manager for Administration Lee Hauesler and interim General Manager James Taylor discuss budget matters during a called meeting of WG&L's Finance Committee Wednesday. (June 19, 2013)

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Water, Gas & Light Commission's Budget and Finance Committee cleared up pending policy matters at a special called meeting Wednesday.

Less than a week after the utility's board approved its $127,671,427 Fiscal Year 2014 budget, which must still be approved by the Albany City Commission, Budget Committee members Bob Hutchinson, Chad Warbington and interim General Manager James Taylor met to clarify pricing policies.

"If there's an increase, board members are being contacted by ratepayers and by city commissioners wanting to know what's going on," Hutchinson said. "We need a policy in place where board members get a report each month so that we're aware of any changes."

WG&L Finance Director John Vansant said rates fluctuate based on usage, a tactic used to assure the utility meets its projected usage numbers. Vansant said better weather (hotter summers and colder winters) would mean little to no increases in electricity and gas prices.

Vansant noted that WG&L used significantly less than its projected billion kilowatt/hours of electricity in 2012 (975 million), a year that featured a cooler-than-average summer and a warmer-than-usual winter.

"We base our expenditures on our budget," Taylor said. "If we fall short (of projections), the money (for budgeted purchases) must come out of our reserves. We have to balance it later when we make up those shortfalls. If we stay within our projections, there should be only a nominal rate hike, unless, of course, we get a big pass from MEAG (the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, which sells WG&L electricity)."

Vansant told the board he'd make a report on price fluctuations each month.

"This is, then, not really anything new, other than the summary you will provide," Warbington said.

Warbington also asked Taylor to clarify the utility's budget approval policy now that WG&L is an official, by ordinance, department of the city. The utility's board had previously discussed a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for employees, but that item was shot down by the Albany City Commission.

"I wouldn't have known about it if I hadn't read it in the paper," Warbington said.

Taylor said he'd tried to ease WG&L into the new budget approval process since its official designation as a city department came during budget preparation, but city commissioners, concerned that there were no raises for other city employees, balked at the WG&L increase.

"We'll get into more detail as we go along, but essentially this board will recommend approval of its budget, but the final decision will be made by the city," the interim GM, who also serves as Albany's city manager, said. "The only question the commission had about your budget was the pay increase.

"Unless something else comes up between now and next Tuesday, your budget will be passed as part of the overall city budget."

Vansant noted before the meeting that the city's decision to nix the pay increase led to a projected increase in the amount of money WG&L will move into reserves in FY 2014.

"We're projecting to increase that amount by about a million dollars to $4,738,853," Vansant said. "That accounts for doing away with the COLA and taking certain equipment out of the budget."