Agendas and Minutes

City Council (View All)

Study Session

Monday, September 21, 2009


Monday, September 21, 2009

Council Chambers

1175 E. Main Street


Mayor Stromberg called the meeting to order at 5:30 p.m.


Councilor Voisin, Navickas, Lemhouse, Jackson, Silbiger and Chapman were present.


Fire Chief John Karns and Division Chief Fire Marshal Margueritte Hickman gave an update on the Ashland fire that burned 90-150 acres.  Ashland Fire and Rescue responded simultaneously to two fires, a brush fire at Immigrant Lake and the Siskiyou Boulevard fire south of city limits.  Warm temperatures, hot dry winds at 10-12mph with gusts at 19mph and humidity at 17% drove the fire.  Fire teams from the State, Jackson, Josephine and Douglas Counties assisted with fire suppression.  Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) brought in land crew, air support and bulldozers that helped significantly.  The OPS Chief commented that the fuel management Ashland had done over the years made a difference in saving structures.  One house was lost and some outer buildings damaged.  Some of the crews went to the Deer Ridge fire in Medford. Overall, it was a good coordinated effort by all agencies involved with some lessons learned.  Crews would work on fire suppression through the night. 


1.     Look Ahead Review


2.     Discussion regarding the proposed ordinance to revise AMC Chapter 15.28.070, which amends the Oregon Fire Code and governs the sale and use of fireworks.

Fire Chief Karns and Division Chief Fire Marshal Margueritte Hickman presented the staff report.  A presentation that included statistics showed that more fires are reported on Fourth of July than any other day in the year, the majority caused by fireworks. Other points included facts regarding fire behavior, managing risk by separating the ignition sources from the fuel load and historical fire movement on how a fire would expand into the watershed.  


Chief Karns proposed restricting fireworks year round only in the interface as a compromise to a citywide ban because previous attempts for a full ban have been unsuccessful.  A restriction to the south and west of Siskiyou Boulevard year round would help protect the interface.  Enforcement would be difficult, but public education could help.  Council suggested the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) mail out fire prevention information two weeks prior to Independence Day. 


Council agreed that education was critical, discussed establishing contained areas for citizens in the interface to use fireworks, a full city ban, illegal fireworks and liability.  The majority of Council agreed on restricting fireworks in the interface.


3.     Discussion regarding what type of Tier 2 power resource the City wants to purchase from BPA under the new 20 -year Regional Dialogue contracts.

Director of Electric Utilities Dick Wanderscheid and Administrative Services Director Lee Tuneberg presented the staff report.  Mr. Wanderscheid explained the City would not need Tier 2 power during the first rate period.  He recommended going with the Short Term Rate Plan. It allowed time for the City to conduct a rate study in 2013 that would determine whether it would be necessary to stay on the Short Term Rate Plan, switch to the Load Growth Rate Plan or move to a Vintage Rate Plan based on actual resources that could be renewable.

Staff explained the risks pertaining to the Load Growth Rate Plan.  It is that the rate is unknown and the City would be committed to paying this rate for the next 17 years.  Further discussion included how expensive solar power currently is, that electric consumption has been constant in Ashland for 25 years and that conservation is less expensive but has increased the operational budget of the utility used. 


4.     Discussion regarding whether the Council wants to raise electric rates by 4% to cover increased operational expenses and higher wholesale power costs from BPA.

Director of Electric Utilities Dick Wanderscheid and Administrative Services Director Lee Tuneberg provided the staff report.  Mr. Wanderscheid explained the last rate increase was through a surcharge and the City has since eliminated the surcharge. Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has raised the wholesale power rates by 7.5%, raising the City’s annual power bill to approximately $380,000.  If rates are not increased, the fund balance would slide below the target and require significant rates increases in the future.       


Staff clarified that spending money on conservation methods increased the budget but served as a cost avoidance of paying more for expensive power in the future.  Much of the conservation method occurs through 0% loans that customers pay back over time.


Mr. Tuneberg went through the spreadsheet submitted that indicated the 4% increase which would leave almost $100,000 remaining. Staff felt confident they would find funds to cover that amount.  The spreadsheet also forecasted 6% increases annually in the future and noted those increases would go through the budget process accordingly.


Staff responded to questions regarding franchise fees, that utilities rent this public space and pay a fee for the right-of-way. 


It was explained that BPA pays most of the conservation program costs through a conservation rate credit. Council and staff discussed contingencies.  Unused contingencies went into the fund balance and to-date the Electric Department has never had to spend a contingency.  


Some members of the Council were not fully convinced regarding the franchise fees and requested a model that reduced the fee or an increase in property taxes.  Staff noted big institutions pay franchise fees but not property taxes and that there are breaks established for low-income families, disabled individuals and seniors.  Concern was expressed regarding the overall increase in utility rates burdening the public.  Staff had recommended a 4% increase instead of 5% in an effort to be sensitive to what the public was experiencing with the economy.  


Meeting adjourned at 7:05 p.m.




Respectfully submitted,

Dana Smith

Assistant to the City Recorder



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