Water, Gas & Light in Albany
ALBANY, Ga. — The city’s Water, Gas & Light Commission board held off approving the utility’s proposed $127,571,427 budget Thursday to further discuss additional cuts and additions suggested by members of the board.
Chief among the discussion will be a proposed 2 percent cost of living increase for WG&L employees suggested by board member Chad Warbington.
Warbington’s proposal would add an additional $305,000 expense to the budget, but cuts he and fellow Commissioner Morris Gurr suggested would put more than $1 million in the utility’s reserves.
Copies of the proposed FY 2014 Water, Gas & Light Commission budget are available online at www.albanyutil.org or through a link on the www.albany.ga website. Hard copies of the budget will be available free of charge at the information desk of WG&L’s 207 Pine Ave. business office starting Monday.
City Manager James Taylor, who also serves as WG&L’s interim general manager, and Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, who chairs the Water, Gas & Light board, expressed reservations about the COL increase.
“My concern is that other city employees are not budgeted to get an increase,” Hubbard said. “I think Commissioner Warbington’s rationale for the raises is good; certainly it would be good for morale among employees. But I’m concerned about the impact and believe we need to research this further.”
Taylor, meanwhile, said approval of the cost of living increase at WG&L would impact the city’s $108 million budget.
“If this board accepts the pay increase proposal, I will make the same proposal for (other city employees),” Taylor said. “Of course, I don’t have a vote on the matter, but I think I could find enough money in the city budget to do that.
“What we have to keep in mind is that a 2 percent increase doesn’t represent a net increase for employees. This won’t be money they take home and put in the bank. Insurance and other employee costs are going to take care of (the proposed COL increase).”
Fiscal Affairs Director John Vansant said the utility’s proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget includes a 2.5 percent water rate hike (which Warbington suggested increasing to 3.5 percent) and potential increases of 3 percent for gas and 5 percent for light rates.
“That’s based on a floating formula, so if we have favorable weather (a cold winter and a hot summer), we would not have to increase rates in gas or electricity,” Vansant said.
The proposed budget also includes $350,000 for the next phase of an ongoing environmental cleanup at a former manufactured gas plant, reduction of staff through attrition, a sharp increase in sales in WG&L’s telecommunications department (which Taylor said may be more significant than projected) and holding capital purchases to a minimum.
If the budget is approved, Vansant said WG&L would be left with $11.5 million above costs to spend on budgeted requests. He projected $3.3 million of that being added to the utility’s reserves.
While Hubbard noted that a report by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government indicated existing disparities in WG&L and other city employee salaries, board member Bob Hutchinson said he too would like to see utility employees receive a cost-of-living hike.
“I believe this is a way that we can show our folks that we care about the jobs they do,” Hutchinson said.
Prior to the budget discussion, Vansant informed the board the utility had received its April (credit) settlement from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, which came in at a record $4.1 million. That funding, the finance director said, put the light department $951,000 in the black and WG&L’s funding for the year at $2.1 million above budget.
Hubbard, however, tempered the good news somewhat by noting, “The question is, is (the MEAG settlement) the way we want to catch up?”
In other action, the WG&L board approved the requested purchase of 10 half-ton pickup trucks to replace older vehicles in the utility’s fleet at a low bid of $174,286 and OK’d the purchase of a $179,856 bucket truck. Light Director Jimmy Norman said his department has done without such a vehicle for six months and has had to scramble to meet demands.
“We’ve had to swap out vehicles and rotate trucks among crews and departments to meet emergencies and other demands,” Norman said. “It’s been a constant juggling act.”