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Helper plugs a few 'leaks in the dike' of city funds

Sun Advocate associate editor

"As a business owner, I've enjoyed seven years of reduced rates," said Helper Mayor Dean Armstrong, speaking of his electricity bill at R&A Market.

But those days are over. Armstrong's bill, as with other small commercial customers on Helper's electric system, will be going up slightly.

The council did not even have to vote on this at last Thursday's special meeting. That's because a previous council voted on the increase in 2004 but the rate change was not implemented for some reason.

The oversight was discovered as Armstrong and councilman Robert Bradley pored over the books and rate structure in an effort to establish what the mayor called an "equitable adjustment" in the city's fee schedules.

As the they compared Helper's electric schedule with Rocky Mountain Power's, R&A's monthly bill was taken as a test case for business customers that use less than 10,000 kilowatt-hours per month. That's how the oversight was discovered.

There's no one to blame for the mistake, the mayor told the council, but it's something that shows the city is "plugging leaks in the dike" as it finds them.

What Armstrong and Bradley found was that Helper's bills are pretty much in line with the big utility's, despite what at first glance appears to be a big disparity in some kilowatt-hour charges. While RMP may have some rates in the four-cent range and Helper's are around nine cents, Helper does not have non-energy-related fees tacked on to its bills, such as RMP's customer service fee.

One rate change is in the works that will affect only one customer - Morgantown Machine. Morgantown is the only customer on a recently-completed 1.5 megawatt capacity power line. This is the only dedicated power line in the city, which, as Armstrong explained, means that if the lights go out elsewhere in town, Morgantown's will remain on.

For that reason, the city is creating a new Industrial Dedicated line rate. It is intended to reflect not only the premium for high-demand exclusive service, but also to recoup the costs of line construction in four years or less.

Another measure to bring revenue in line with expense is a 30 cent per can increase in garbage collecion fees. This is a simple pass-through of changes in contract costs.

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