OKANOGAN - Okanogan County Public Utility District commissioners heard several updates from departments about 2019 activities and proposed 2020 budget items at an Oct. 21 board meeting and subsequent workshop meeting.
During the regular afternoon meeting, commissioners heard from Customer Services Supervisor Mindy Morris that the district has launched its pay-by-phone program.
Recent attempted scams are just one example of why the district moved to the automated system – the safety and security are fully compliant with laws regulating the PUD, according to the district.
Morris said some customers have struggled to adapt to the new automated system, but district staff members have helped several through the process. Others find the process convenient, especially as they are now able to set up automatic payments.
She said customers should make sure the PUD has up-to-date phone numbers.
Morris said there are also more customers accessing SmartHub, to not only make payments online or through the app, but also to track their energy usage. That service is especially helpful during the winter, when usage is much higher and bills also get higher.
Information Systems Manager Jerry Day said, among other projects, his department has been working on a network security vulnerability assessment, and recently ran an internal exercise to help staff identify email phishing attempts.
Community Relations Coordinator Sheila Corson talked about some of her activities with the board, highlighting a coloring contest for Public Power Week and an update on the Sunny Okanogan Community Solar project.
Corson said 62 interest forms had been turned in from people interested in participating in the solar project, but staff hope to receive more than twice that amount by the end of the month. More information is posted on the district website.
As part of their usual annual budget season practices, the board hosted an evening meeting to go into more detail on the proposed 2020 budget. Two additional 6 p.m. meetings are planned after regular board meetings Nov. 4 and 18.
For the Oct. 21 work session, presentations included:
-Human Resources Manager Katie Pfitzer talked about wage and benefit trends. She said the district expects to hire one additional employee in 2020, but is also preparing for the possibility of up to 12 retirements in the next two years.
The average employee receives benefits (including medical, dental, retirement, etc.) that equal about 47 percent of their salary. The district considers several factors when budgeting wages and benefits, including state and unique local economy, industry pressures and total compensation balance.
“This is our opportunity to show the great value of our employees; to recruit and retain a high-quality work force,” she said.
Network Manager John MacDonald said he has major five-year replacement plans beginning in 2020, including changing wireless access points that are reaching end of life, and upgrading the system from 10-gigabit capability to 100-gigabit capability.
Revenues have been increasing, and will be enough to cover the proposed capital expenses.
Day also presented proposed plans for the information systems department, including some major upgrades to district servers. The district is also looking into adding more function with several new NISC software modules to add efficiency.
Director of Accounting and Finance Don Coppock gave an overview of district revenue and expenses.
Electric retail sales are expected to be similar in 2020 to this year, although likely higher than 2019 because of how mild the year’s weather was. Wholesale sales are expected to be lower, since the district switched to a block electrical purchase product from Bonneville Power Administration.
That also means that the cost of power purchases for the district should be less. The district expects to spend $23.4 million in power purchases for 2020; that represents 45 percent of the district’s spending.
About 26 percent of expenses are wages and benefits, with 7 percent debt service, 7 percent contractual services, 6 percent taxes, and the remaining 9 percent for several other expenses.
Coppock said the all-in cost per kilowatt-hour on the average for PUD customers is about 7.4 cents, compared to an average of about 8 cents per kwh in Washington state, and 10.6 cents across the United States.
He said the district will need to decide the best ways to fund capital projects, and how much will be funded by additional borrowing or cash.
The draft 2020 budget is available on the district’s website, www.okanoganpud.org/finance/annual-budgets.