Frustrated Hatters fill chambers but mostly file out after getting improved utility relief

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Frustrated Hatters fill chambers but mostly file out after getting improved utility relief

December 6, 2023

About 250 Hatters filled city council chambers Monday as councillors voted on relief options, promising to make their voices heard over soaring utility rates.

Most lasted about 75 minutes and left after an improved package for ratepayers not only in the Hat, but also Redcliff and some Cypress County hamlets, was approved.

Last week, about 500 Hatters packed a hall at the Stampede grounds, launching questions at four council members who attended.

On Tuesday they increased a recommendation of $600 per utility account paid over three months to include a fourth month, and therefore a double credit of $400 on the bill mailed directly after Sept. 18 when the next billing cycle begins.

Administrators will also create a “best in market” rate, due in early October, and a business model analysis by year-end done by an outside party.

The meeting drew a handful of former city councillors, several unsuccessful council and school board candidates, Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Justin Wright and former MP LaVar Payne.

Hatter Nicole Frey started a petition in late July calling on council to, generally, be more decisive on issues. She said before the meeting she hoped to see more information on how discounts were determined.

“I really hope that it’s a turning point for council,” she said before the meeting, adding that more information released to the citizens about power production costs and the power plant forecasts increases public trust.

Sou Boss who organized the protest meeting last week said she took notice of the issue when her restaurant’s bill for July was $1,000 more than the previous month after she failed to sign on for a fixed rate, and the default price came in twice as high.

“I’m not sure $1,500 is going to make a real difference for some of the businesses that I’ve talked to,” she told the News.

A final amount is $2,000 for small and medium businesses, while councillors and Mayor Linnsie Clark asked about usage based rebates.

Administrators said usage would create complexity in a program they she targeted “general costs” but delivered through the utility billing system. Large commercial and industrial customers tend to have more long-term agreements and rate surety, said Clark.

Ron Noel of the Medicine Hat Condo Association lobbied council last month to look at rates. Noel began raising concerns in 2022 when individual condo owners were left out of provincial affordability measures as most facilities have a common connection, and therefore one relief payment for up to 200 units.

“I’m very pleased with the turnout (of the meeting) – this has been two years of banging a drum about the issue,” said Noel. The city program will consider individual units in each condo, but the process has yet to be formalized, say administrators.

“It’s much better for condo owners, for sure,” but he further stated the net cost would still be higher then budgeted this year for utilities.

Administrators told council in a response to questions that approximately two thirds of City of Medicine Hat power customers are not on fixed rates, which are currently half the default rates.

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