BPU reviews budget; activist plans more action

Community activist Ty Gorman didn’t see his issues discussed at the Board of Public Utilities’ budget review in an all-day Monday meeting.

Gorman arrived to the meeting at 540 Minnesota Ave. to find the building still closed off to the public. In order to get in, he had to call to the security desk and wait. It took a while, then he was let into the building where the public meeting was being held. A couple of people waiting outside for the meeting left when they couldn’t get in immediately, he said. There were some barriers that shouldn’t have been there, he believes. The meeting also was aired on Zoom for people to watch.

BPU spokesman David Mehlhaff stated he was unaware of any delay in people getting into the meeting.

Gorman, who is with the Community Conscience Action Network and who is active with the Sierra Club, said he didn’t hear any of his community group’s issues mentioned at the eight-hour budget review meeting. The issues include rate reduction, separating the BPU charges from the UG charges on the bill, no disconnections especially for those who have electric medical equipment, and other subjects.

The community group is asking BPU board members to vote against the budget this year. That vote is scheduled for the Dec. 21 meeting.

In the meantime, Gorman is planning to attend the Wednesday, Dec. 7, BPU board meeting at 6 p.m. He plans to speak during the public comment section of the meeting.

Gorman said the BPU is not taking enough advantage of federal money available that would help the utility lower costs. It needs to search for more federal dollars that are available. Part of his proposal was to close the Nearman coal-burning plant, using federal dollars to lower costs.

Mehlhaff said at the BPU meeting that it wasn’t as easy as it sounds to get the federal dollars. They have been working almost a year now with Congresswoman Sharice Davids’ and Sen. Jerry Moran’s office for funding for various projects, and they are still in the running to get it, he said. They have lobbied, made phone calls and contacted people in connection with the federal grants. Other dollars are available from the federal agencies through the state agencies, and they are tracking them, he said. There are Low-Income Energy Assistance Program dollars that are possible as well as programs such as home weatherization. They are tracking federal dollars and state grants almost daily, he said. While the infrastructure act programs are relatively new, they are tracking them, he said, actively working on them. A small team at BPU has been formed to work on getting grants.

The eight-hour meeting also featured a discussion about supply chain issues the BPU faces, as well as rising fuel costs and their effect on the utility’s operations.

The topic of the closed BPU lobby came up later during the budget review meeting. Most of the meeting was a department by department review of the upcoming budget.

David Haley, a BPU member and a state senator, asked about reopening the lobby to the public so that people could come in and have some face-to-face contact with the customer service department. He asked about a limited lobby reopening that would not cost as much as a full reopening.

He was told more research would be needed into the costs.

Board President Mary Gonzales was surprised to hear that people are still trying to walk up to the lobby to discuss their bills, even though it has been closed a year. The lobby was closed during the COVID pandemic, and remains closed.

BPU customer service stated that they are answering phone calls about bills, and continuing to look at the process to make improvements. General Manager Bill Johnson said they’re making progress.

Haley also asked the BPU about a small discretionary fund that was being used to fund some local charitable events, and how other community organizations could get access to the funding. Most of the discussion Monday was about the utility’s financial matters.

See earlier story at https://wyandotteonline.com/community-activist-group-asking-bpu-board-members-to-vote-against-budget/

One thought on “BPU reviews budget; activist plans more action”

  1. I had to call BPU today and was on hold for 45 minutes you can’t tell me they’re getting that many calls if they are then they need to open the lobby back up

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