A local activist on Wednesday night called for the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Public Utilities to try to link to federal programs to reduce the effects of high rates on local customers.
Ty Gorman, a KCK resident, said at the BPU’s public comment time that utility shutoff protections this winter should be more stringent to make sure nobody is shut off of water and power, putting anyone’s health at risk.
He also is hearing from the community that parts of the BPU bill, including fees, the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), and extra fees on the bill are contributing to turnoffs and shouldn’t be on the bill. They should be removed, Gorman said. This concept of separating the BPU water and light charges on the bill from the Unified Government charges on the bill, such as trash collection and PILOT, also was endorsed later in the meeting by BPU member David Haley.
Gorman said a transparent plan process on an integrated resource plan with the Unified Government is necessary, sharing information with the public.
According to Gorman, it is especially important since there is so much opportunity to reduce bills this year from federal programs such as the inflation act. Community people have to be involved in order to get funding out of it, he said. He wanted to see some engagement with clean energy solutions, but there has been no information about it out of the BPU yet, he said.
Gorman also said he sent information to the BPU about best practices and consumer protections on shutoffs. He said he shared a number of resources with the BPU on best practices for customer replacement and a good resource plan, customer protections in other states, written notices, delays, legal recourse on shutoffs.
“There seems to be money available for raises in the BPU, for the general manager, a lot of high costs from BPU that folks have expressed anger about,” Gorman said. The community is looking at not enough resources out there for people who are getting hurt and their power and water is being turned off, he said.
Community members are coming together in a couple of weeks to ask BPU and others to talk with the community, according to Gorman.
He said he has heard from BPU vice president Rose Mulvany-Henry that she may be interested in this event.
Jeff Bryant, a BPU board member, said he had not received an invitation to it, and Gorman replied there has not yet been a direct invite for it. Bryant replied he would be interested in seeing it.
Elephant in the room
Later in the meeting, Bryant explained his vote from the earlier BPU November meeting, supporting the extension of the general manager’s contract and raise. It will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023. This passed by a 4-2 vote. (http://www.wyandottedaily.com/bpu-execs-salary-boosted-contract-extended/)
Bryant said he would like to address the “elephant in the room.” He was asked by constituents why he voted in favor of the general manager’s contract extension and raise.
He said he went through a personal decision process to determine whether he should vote in favor. When the past general manager retired four years ago, the BPU board discovered that their top manager pay was far off the national standard, he said. BPU’s general manager pay was only two-thirds of the national average, which is around $475,000 annually.
The amount was justified by external factors such as education, knowledge, practical experience to obtain proficiency to manage of utility this size, according to Bryant. The increase will bring the general manager to a rate 12 percent higher than his predecessor. The annual average of a 3 percent increase is in line with the increases of other employees, he said.
The BPU general manager has fulfilled his fiscal duties to the board, Bryant said, although the board does not always agree with him.
Johnson successfully led the utility through the pandemic while keeping expenses down, within the budget, according to Bryant. He kept BPU in line with national averages. And there have been no rate increase proposals brought to the board in the four years of his tenure, he said.
Johnson has served in various roles with the BPU over the past 40 years, according to Bryant, and one day he may be retiring. Once again, the board will have to find a new manager, he said.
Bryant said he hopes the BPU at that time can find a capable replacement in the ranks of the utility. Only someone who has spent some significant time in Wyandotte County can truly appreciate the needs of its residents, and he feels the general manager does that, according to Bryant.
BPU board member Bob Milan Sr. was unhappy that the manager’s salary and extension, discussed in executive session earlier this month, was publicly announced and discussed in the media. He felt this information should have been confidential. However, the BPU took a public vote on passing it after the executive session.
Vote on risk management policy
The BPU on Wednesday night voted to approve a risk management resolution presented by Maurice Moss, executive director of corporate compliance. Board vice president Rose Mulvany Henry voted no on the resolution.
She said she felt that she was being asked to vote on something without really seeing what it was. She wanted to see more of the policy details before voting on it.
Moss said it was a buildout, with all the details not being released before it is in place. Its content is largely between the general manager and Moss.
Johnson said if the board wants to get into operations discussions on everything, they can have that conversation, but it would be a change in the direction from what the utility has done before. Mulvany Henry said that would not be a bad thing for the utility.
Bryant said board members are responsible for holding the general manager accountable, but not to get into the weeds of day-to-day operations. It is a fine balance, according to Bryant.
Bryant also said some of the risk management policy may or may not be best to present in public because it poses a potential safety risk.
Mulvany Henry said she was not against the policy, she just wanted more information before the vote.