PUC to keep current format of utility bills

NEW ULM – The Public Utilities Commission decided Tuesday to keep the current format for utility bills and to continue to educate users as well as to look into more user friendly language on the bills.

Finance Director Reg Vorwerk presented information on the current billing format. The utility bill was redesigned in February of 2013.

Vorwerk felt the current format needed to be kept for another year to determine if the public’s understanding would improve.

Commissioner Norman Melville said that it could be useful to provide a guide for residents to better read and understand the bill. He suggested an online list of acronyms and definitions.

Part of the problem with the bill format is related to the residents under the Budget Billing Program. City Manager Brian Gramentz said the most frequent question from residents on budget billing is determining whether there is a credit or deficit.

Commissioner William Swan suggested that some of the utility bills be submitted in email form, particularly those with automatic withdrawals to save on paper expenses.

Vorwerk said the City was already looking into this change.

Utility Departments

Reports

Gramentz reported on various activities in utility departments.

Under Electrical Distribution, a decision was made that the replacement upgrade at the Northside Substation would use the existing wood poles rather purchase new steel poles. The wooden poles have sustained significant woodpecker-related damage. The holes caused by woodpeckers will be filled with a wire mesh to prevent further damage.

In the Electrical Production Department the Back Pressure Turbine startup has been finished. The gas turbine will be converting from DOS operating system to a Windows-based operating system. Gramentz said a glitch was still present in the converted system, preventing it from running at 100 percent. The department will bring in system operators to correct the problem.

Energy Services are currently hearing appeals from two customers regarding increased water costs to prevent frozen water lines.

Gramentz explained that typically if a water line freezes, the City will thaw the line for the resident at no cost. However, if the line freezes a second time, the cost is on the resident. In order to prevent further freezing residents are advised to let the water run more often. “In the past a $200 water bill is still cheaper than an $800 digging up of your frozen line,” said Gramentz.

“At this point in time we have done all we can on our end to explain it is cheaper to run the water than dig it up in February,” Gramentz said.

In other business a joint City Council/Public Utility Commission meeting will be held 4 p.m., Tuesday, June 3, to review audited financial statements from 2013. The meeting will be followed by the regular meeting of the City Council at 5 p.m.

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