OKANOGAN - Okanogan County Public Utility District’s 2022 budget – including a 3.75 percent rate increase - was approved by commissioners Oct. 25.

Details of the 3.75 percent average rate increase haven’t been determined, said PUD officials. Each customer type will be adjusted based on the costs to provide those services.

The board and staff will discuss rates in the coming months in anticipation of an April 1, 2022, effective date.

Other budget highlights include:

-$60.6 million in anticipated revenue.

-$51.1 million in expected expenditures.

-$4.2 million for debt service.

-$20.9 million in capital outlay.

Capital outlay is mostly funded by a $40 million bond issued last year, said PUD officials. Major projects include the continued work on the Okanogan-Brewster transmission rebuild, Tonasket substation replacement, substation power transformer upgrades and more.

Non-union wages were increased at the mid-point by 3.8 percent, normally adjusted to Consumer Price Index totals, which this year was abnormally high near 6 percent, said the PUD. Commissioners discussed some concern about keeping up with competitive wages at high inflation rates.

Budget documents are available on the PUD website, www.okanoganpud.org.

In other business in October, the board:

-Considered a broadband grant application through the state Broadband Office for about $9.6 million to serve Twisp, Pateros, Crumbacher and Riverside. The areas were identified through partnerships with area broadband action teams. The grant would require a 10 percent match.

-Discussed possible slight changes to commissioner district boundaries, a requirement following the 2020 Census. Only some slight adjustments are likely in the Omak-Okanogan area. A public hearing will be Nov. 22 to discuss the proposed plan, which can be viewed on the PUD website.

-Decided not to record every board meeting, since those recordings must be retained forever and the PUD would need to purchase expensive equipment to continue to record properly. Instead, minutes will be available and staff can work with the public for any questions.

-Heard that about 57 accounts are 30 days or more past due, and many customers still are working on getting assistance to pay those bills or are setting up long-term payment arrangements. The 60-day and more past-due amount is down to $15,000, with only eight accounts disconnected for non-payment and non-contact with the PUD.

-Stressed that utility access roads are not public access. The PUD asks that no one uses them unless on official PUD business.

The utility has received reports of people using access roads or the pathways along the powerlines – known as an easement or right of way. Some use them to cross private land and access public land during hunting season.

Fafety and out of respect for private landowners’ rights, the PUD asks that no one use the easements or rights of way. Doing so is considered trespassing.

Anyone who sees unofficial vehicles or persons accessing PUD easements or rights of way is asked to report it to the PUD or law enforcement.

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