Clark Public Utilities board gives manager $10K raise

Commissioners set 2013 budget, anticipating that expenses will rise over 2012

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

Published:

 
photoWayne Nelson

Clark Public Utilities' elected three-member board of commissioners expressed pleasure with staff as it unanimously approved a largely status quo budget Tuesday, including a 4.4 percent pay increase for General Manager Wayne Nelson.

The 2013 budget proposes no rate increase on electricity or water.

Nelson's pay hike, after the board's early-morning executive session review of his performance, raised his income from $225,000 to $235,000 a year. The 11 percent raise Nelson received in 2011, which raised his pay from $202,234 to $225,000, was his first raise since 2008.

In addition, the board voted Tuesday to convert 100 hours of Nelson's unused sick leave to annual leave and to maintain his vehicle allowance of $400 a month. All changes are retroactive to July.

Board members justified the pay increase as a competitive move to retain Nelson, who has served since 1999 as general manager of the utility, which has 367 employees.

"When you have a good person on board, you want to keep that good person on board," said Commissioner Byron Hanke. He serves with Commissioner Nancy Barnes and Commission President Carol Curtis. Curtis did not seek re-election in November and thus presided over her final board meeting on Tuesday. She will be replaced by newly elected utility commissioner Jim Malinowski on Jan. 1.

Below budget for 2012

Commissioners on Tuesday also unanimously approved a $368.8 million operating and maintenance budget for 2013.

That's a $5.8 million increase over the $362.9 million the utility expects to spend by the end of 2012, based on its projections in early October, but less than the $376.9 million budget the board approved last year for 2012. Compared with that budget, the budget approved Tuesday is 2.2 percent lower, said Erica Erland, a spokeswoman for the utility.

Erland said 2012 budget planning was based, in part, on a conservative scenario in which its largest power supplier — the Bonneville Power Administration — would generate less power than it did from its hydro system, due to lighter snow pack or a warmer year.

"We try to plan for — not the worst case, but a more dire situation," she said.

That didn't happen this year, so the utility's expenses were lower.

It also was able to lock in favorable rates for the natural gas used to operate its River Road plant. The facility is expected to generate 34 percent of the utility's power in 2013, at a cost of about $107 million. About $93.1 million worth of the utility's power comes from the BPA.

The bulk of the 2013 budget -- about $254.1 million, is earmarked for buying and generating electric power, including $14.8 million for the Combine Hills on 13,000 acres of farmland west of Milton-Freewater, Ore.

"That is the wind farm that we contracted to meet (Initiative) 937 energy requirements," Erland said.

Approved in 2006, I-937 requires large utilities to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by the year 2020, following step-up requirements of 3 percent in 2012 and 9 percent in 2016.