Council to discuss utility relief options sooner than later

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Council to discuss utility relief options sooner than later

December 6, 2023

City council will discuss potential utility relief options sooner, rather than later.

The decision to expedite the issue to Sept. 5 came up unexpectedly at a special meeting of council on Monday held directly following a council committee of the whole session to discuss recreation facility priorities.

Mayor Linnsie Clark called the special meeting on short notice – all councillors agreed to meet requirements – and she said action could likely take the form of rate relief.

Coun. Darren Hirsch introduced the motion that a review planned for the end of the year be moved forward with relief options at council’s meeting next Tuesday. It passed 9-0.

“We’ve all looked at our bills with shock and horror,” he said, stating the one-week delay is needed. “It does take some time to draft a solution that makes sense… I’d like us to be comprehensive.”

It comes following a month of pressure after some ratepayers who reacted sharply to increases that appeared on July power bills are planning to meet today to demand some action from the city on power prices.

It’s also ahead of a planned protest meeting organized to take place Tuesday afternoon, 2:30 p.m. at Higdon Hall.

The jump in costs comes after many Hat power customers saw a special 2022 rate extension expire at the end of June, with new rates double to four times higher coming into effect. At the same time, the city forecasts that it could post a $134 million profit, largely from sales to the Alberta grid this summer.

Coun. Robert Dumanowksi seconded the motion.

Coun. Ramona Robins said that she would also like to see a broad scope to counteract cost of living increases.

“It’s important to have some relief today,” said Coun. Allison Knodel.

Council had on July 5 directed staff to present options later in the year when late-year financials would be better known.

Coun. Alison Van Dyke, the chair of the Energy Committee, said before Monday’s meeting about the scope of work was being determined.

“We understand the severity and gravity of what’s happened, and staff has been working on it quite diligently,” said City Manager Ann Mitchell.

In early July, council deliberated on “one-off” options to provide relief from high bills and voted to expand amounts given to ratepayers under the Fair Entry Program, which is open to Hatters who apply and qualify as low-income earners.

At the time, some councillors also shelved discussion of a “special dividend” suggested by Hirsch or changes to the dividend formula – which deposits most large profits into reserve funds for city capital needs and an endowment for tax abatement.

Since late 2022, the department offers default rate, a 12-month fixed rate contract and a variable rate contract that follows actual provincial market prices recorded in the previous month.

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