Grant PUD presents 2019 budget proposal

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Cheryl Schweizer/Sun Tribune - Chief financial officer Jeff Bishop explained some of the details of the Grant County PUD’s 2019 budget during a public hearing.

EPHRATA — The Grant County PUD plans to spend about $279,604,000 in 2019. Utility district chief financial officer Jeff Bishop detailed some of the expenditures and the reasons behind them at a public hearing Oct. 9 in Ephrata, one of three held last week.

People who spoke during the public comment session were most interested in the PUD’s fiber program and its possible expansion.

There was some good news about the PUD’s financial picture. “As we look at 2019 results, we’re in a much healthier financial position than we have been in the past,” Bishop said. The budget includes an overall two percent rate increase for 2019, in line with rate increases the last few years. But the 2020 forecast calls for a one percent overall rate increase.

“A much better position than we thought were going to be in,” Bishop said.

The PUD does have a lot of money in the bank – its cash reserve – and gets a lot of questions about that, Bishop said. For 2019 the budget proposes cutting the cash reserve by about $50 million.

The budget includes $81.3 million for projects in and around Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams. Utility district officials are about halfway through a project to upgrade turbines and generators at the two dams; the project is winding down at Wanapum Dam and is scheduled to be completed in 2028. For 2019 the turbine project at Priest Rapids is projected to coast about $18 million, while the turbines and generators at the tow dams is project at $16.8 million.

Utility district officials also will be working on improvements to the embankment at Priest Rapids, which is projected to cost $8.8 million.

Capital projects for the electric delivery system are budgeted at $50.7 million. That includes $10.7 million for substations. About $7.2 million is budgeted for technology upgrades, including a more efficient system for responding to problems, and upgraded security.

The proposed budget includes about $3.1 million for expanding the number of customers that could hook into the existing system. “We’ve also got dollars that weren’t spent in 2018 for expansion”, and that money, $2.7 million, is budgeted for the fiber expansion program.

More money could be added to that, Bishop said; that’s up to PUD commissioners. In 2018 the commissioners allocated $7 million for the fiber buildout, with the proviso that they would review the program annually.

About 30 percent of the county remains without fiber, and four people spoke in favor of continuing the fiber buildout during the public session. Commissioner Tom Flint said he would support including $7 million in the budget in addition to the $2.7 million left from 2018.

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