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EPUD budget cuts amount spent on board members.

Byline: Josephine Woolington The Register-Guard

Emerald People's Utility District Board members will have less travel money to spend next year after approving the utility's 2014 budget on Tuesday.

The move comes after the publicly elected board initially proposed to increase what the utility spends to send its members to utility industry conferences in Portland, Seaside, Denver and Billings, Mont., plus a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C.

Instead, each board member next calendar year will be limited to spending no more than $20,000 for all in- and out-of-district meetings and conferences, and other expenses such as per-diem meeting stipends.

The board's budget for next year totals $135,743 - a 17 percent reduction from this year's budget. The budgeted amount includes all board costs, such as monthly medical stipends, workers' compensation premiums and taxes that the utility pays on the board's meeting and medical stipends, which are not factored into the $20,000 spending limit.

The utility spent about $32,600 on average for each board member this year, including all taxes paid on board members' meeting and medical stipends.

The five-member board - which serves rural communities bordering the Eugene- Springfield metropolitan area - previously proposed to spend, on average, just over $35,000 per board member next year.

Instead, the utility will pay next year an average of about $27,000 for each board member, after factoring in all board expenditures, including medical stipends and taxes.

EPUD board members are among the few elected representatives in the state who are paid. Each member receives a $134 stipend for attending the utility's 24 regularly scheduled meetings. Board members also receive mileage reimbursements and a $450 monthly stipend to help pay for health insurance.

For every out-of-district meeting or conference that board members attend, they receive another $134 stipend. The utility covers travel and lodging costs, plus cab fares.

Although the board's budget makes up a fraction of the utility's $45 million operating budget, it has angered some ratepayers who have contended that board members should not get paid to go to meetings or receive financial assistance to pay for health insurance. Just one ratepayer attended Tuesday's meeting, however, and he did not speak about the board's budget.

Board member Katherine Schacht - who represents customers in Halsey, the northern Santa Clara area and communities surrounding Junction City - proposed limiting each board member's budget to $20,000, which the board unanimously approved in late October.

"It was incumbent upon us to listen to ratepayers and cut back," Schacht said before Tuesday's meeting at the utility's headquarters on Seavey Loop Road east of Eugene.

Board members didn't discuss the board budget at Tuesday's meeting, but had been working for several weeks to cut its proposed budget. Members ultimately reduced the board budget by 22 percent compared with what was originally proposed for 2014.

Some board members on Tuesday did, however, express an interest in cutting costs in other ways and briefly discussed whether the 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase the utility's employees will get next year was excessive.

EPUD staff members said Tuesday that the utility may need to raise electric rates next year, but did not indicate by how much.

Board members will now have to choose which conferences and meetings they wish to attend in order not to exceed their $20,000 allocation for next year.

Board President Penny Jordan, who initially asked the utility for $29,249 next year, said in an email that she never intended to spend that much.

"I was curious to see how much it would be if I did go to everything," said Jordan, who represents Goshen, Seavey Loop and Mathews Road and most of Creswell. "(The budget) was a work in progress and, in my mind, was nothing that I would have ever supported."

Jordan declined to say exactly how she plans to adjust her travel expenses by roughly one-third. She said she has tried to get the board to "tighten its belt" for years, but couldn't get a majority of members to agree to trim the board's budget.

"I am now glad that other board members support reducing our budget," Jordan said. "Historically, it has not been that way."

Board member Ron Davis, who represents the Cottage Grove area, requested $17,609 next year - the only member who requested less than $20,000 and who didn't budget to go to out-of-state conferences.

Board member Patti Chappel - who represents customers from Veneta and surrounding communities - originally requested $33,296, the most of any member.


2014 approved board budget: $135,743

2013 board budget: $163,110

Initially proposed 2014 board budget: $175,038

Note: Board member expenditures include regular board meeting stipends; out-of-district conference stipends, plus meals and lodging; health insurance stipend; workers' compensation premiums; and taxes that the utility pays on the board's meeting and health insurance stipends.
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Title Annotation:Utilities; Money for travel to conferences and other expenses are reduced as the utility sets its 2014 spending plan
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 18, 2013
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