Blanding City Council swears in new member discusses utilities

Blanding City Council swore in a new member, discussed the annual budget, and received reports on gas and sanitation rates at their latest meeting. 
Christopher Ewald was sworn in as the new Blanding City Councilor at the latest city council meeting on May 24. 
The seat was made open following KD Perkins’ resignation at the beginning of May. 
Ewald was one of four applicants for the position. Trent Herring, Lawrence Turk, and Jeffrey Blake also applied for the empty seat. The council interviewed each applicant and ultimately voted in favor of Ewald. 
When asked what he thought was the purpose of a city council Ewald stated, “the council’s job would be to try to better organize the structure of the city… we need somebody at the helm to steer us the right way.” 
When asked about his stance on Blanding’s latest growth, Ewald stated, “growth can be a good thing but needs to be done in the right way.” 
Ewald works as the Guardian Flight Regional Manager. The company along with other users of the Blanding Airport have advocated for the creation of an Airport Advisory Committee to assist in the creation of policies and rates for the airport. 
Members of a committee would include a member of the city council as well as representation from pilots and businesses who operate out of the airport.
The discussion comes after city staff proposed updating policies and rates at the airport.
While the community that utilizes the Blanding Airport has generally been amenable to implementing policies, there has been push-back regarding increasing some rates at the airport.
Ewald stated he had not been to a city council meeting until recently, as he has provided city staff and council with feedback on the airport discussions. Ewald stated he had learned a lot from attending the meetings.
The council opened two public hearing sessions in the meeting. The first was concerning the Community Development Block Grant from which the city will receive $69,762 to be used for community development and well being. 
The public hearing was held as an opportunity for citizens to express how they would like the money spent for the city. Only Pratt Redd offered a comment suggesting pickleball courts would be a “great asset to the town.” 
Pursuant to Utah State code, the city council must hold a public hearing session to allow citizens the opportunity to comment on the city’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The council opened the second public hearing session of the night, but there were no comments made.
The city’s contract with Waste Management has historically been based upon the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI is a measure of the average change over time in prices paid by consumers for goods and services. 
The CPI is used to calculate the rate at which Blanding City  pays for and charges for the city’s waste management. 
The current contract with Waste Management will see a CPI increase of 8.3%. Because the CPI is calculated according to the entire economy, Waste Management is allowed to pass fuel costs on to the city. 
City Manager David Johnson explained if the contract is drawn up according to the CPI the city will see the current contract increase by 13.2% in 2023, which would mean an increase of $2.50 per month for each customer. 
Johnson explained another option would be to transition to the Water Sewer Trash Index (WST). Unlike the CPI, this index measures only the prices paid for utilities. This index is not affected by changes in gas prices or a fluctuating economy, which makes the WST less volatile than the CPI. Should the city choose to switch to the WST, the upfront costs would be higher, but the rate for following years would be lower. 
If the WST is used the city would see a 17% in the cost of a contract for 2023. This would mean a $3.25 increase each month for consumers. 
As the WST is less volatile, the rates are projected to be lower and more stable. If the city had already entered a contract according to the WST index the city would only see a 4% increase for 2023.
There was no action to be taken at this time, the council directed staff to continue to negotiate a contract and pursue utilizing the WST index.
Utility Financial Solutions (LLC) completed a cost of service study for the city’s electric company. Kim Palmer presented the report to the council. According to the study, the current gas rates being charged consumers is not sufficient to maintain the financial health of the gas utility. The current projected rates do not adjust until 2026, when they will see a 1% increase in rates.
Palmer explained customer charges are a fixed cost to the customer that cover things like the meter, billing, administrative expenses, and a portion of the meter maintenance. 
As of right now the fixed customer charge is $8/month. Distribution rates are calculated each month according to an individual’s use of natural gas.
Utility Financial Solutions recommended the monthly gas rate reflect a retail margin of $.50 in order to maintain the financial health of the city’s utility services. One way in which this can be achieved is by increasing the customer charge, then lowering and stabilizing the distribution rates.
There was no action to be taken, the council commended and thanked Kim Palmer for the report. The council directed staff to continue negotiations and then bring a proposed contract for the council to review.
Palmer also presented a new online report created by Clear Gov, posted on the city’s website. Citizens can now easily find and navigate the city’s budget and track where money is going and where it is coming from. 
Blanding City Economic Development specialist Pratt Redd presented a new flowchart created to easily guide developers looking to establish a major subdivision, minor subdivision, or attain a building permit. The flowcharts have been uploaded to the city’s website.

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