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The Los Alamos County Council gave the green light to an ordinance changing the gas rate structure from a fixed rate charge to a combination of a fixed rate for predictable costs with a variable rate based on the cost of natural gas. The ordinance also includes a five percent increase to cover rising costs. Councilors approved the new measure in a 6-0 vote Tuesday night.
“This is a benefit, we feel, to the consumers, because without that we have to build into our rates enough of a cushion to cover any potential gas rate increase, and the cost of natural gas is a fairly volatile commodity cost. It could fluctuate quite widely,” said Deputy Utilities Manager for Finance and Administration Robert Westervelt.
“So if we build in enough of a cushion to be sure we can cover the cost of natural gas that means more money coming out of the residents’ pockets into our coffers to support our natural gas bills, when we’d rather reflect the actual cost of gas in their rates.
“(If the cost of gas goes down) the customer sees that decrease immediately instead of a year or two later when we recognize that we need to lower the rates.”
The new rate structure will not affect residents on budget billing.
Councilor David Izraelevitz asked Westervelt to present documentation to council explaining the five percent increase during budget hearings.
“I think this is the right thing to do, to not have an artificial cash reserve requirement that the department does not need to have if there is more agile adjustment of the real cost to the department, unless there really is an increase in gas costs,” Izraelevitz said.
Councilor Pete Sheehey asked for assurances that a web page detailing the cost of gas calculation for customers would be operational when the change appears on their November billing.
“That is excellent transparency for county government, so I urge you to get that up,” Sheehey said.
“We’re still working on the design of that page, but I think we have the nuts and bolts of it determined and we will be ready,” Westervelt said.
“Our goal is to make it as understandable as possible.”
The ordinance includes a sunset clause specifying that the rate structure must be reviewed and resubmitted to council for approval in three years. Council must also approve any rate increase that exceeds $0.99 per therm.
Also during Tuesday’s council session, Dino Sgambellone’s appointment as Chief of Police received official approval. Sgambellone has spent over 22 years with the police department in the City of Mansfield, Ohio, serving the last three as chief. He holds a PhD in public administration and an M.B.A. and a bachelors in business administration.
Sgambellone’s starting salary is $135,600, just below midrange of the advertised salary. The contract includes annual leave accrual rates equivalent to rates accrued by general county employees after 10 years service and a beginning annual leave bank of 40 hours to allow Sgambellone time to move his family.
“I would like to thank our County Administrator Harry Burgess for executing a very diligent process,” Councilor Steve Girrens said. “I was impressed by the interest that our job offer drew nationally. I think that’s a positive indicator for the community. Sometimes you think that makes the process harder, but sometimes it makes it easier when there is such good quality interested.”
“Having met him and looked at all the other applicants, I really do think he is the right man for the job,” Council Chair Geoff Rodgers said. “He has some big shoes to fill and he has a big job to do, so I certainly look forward to having him here and working with him.”
Sgambellone’s start date is Nov. 12.
A new Historic Preservation ordinance also received council approval. Look for more on that in Thursday’s Los Alamos Monitor.
In other business:
• Council confirmed Jason Romero as county surveyor. Romero is a graduate of Los Alamos High School, worked for the county as a student intern and spent 10 years as a surveyor with the Bureau of Land Management.
• Council approved a resolution supporting the 2014 legislative priorities of the New Mexico Association of Counties.
• Monica-Amit Misra of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network accepted a proclamation declaring the month of November as “Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month.”
• A new health insurance plan for county staff will go into effect in 2014. The new plan moves the county from a health maintenance organization (HMO) platform to a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan. Select services will also have a deductible attached to them in order to keep premium costs lower.
• Three new appointments to the Art in Public Places Board were approved.
Susan Schillaci will fill the seat vacated when Jess Cullinan’s term expires on November 3.
Lynne Johnson and Erin Kay McHugh will fill two provisional memberships with two-year terms, intended to help the board meet increased demands for placement of public art.