Russ Skolrood was selected as president of the three-member Grays Harbor PUD Commission Monday, setting a new tone for the board after taking the gavel last held by longtime commissioner Tom Casey.
“I think the year is exciting, but I also think it’s a little bit scary,” Skolrood said of the upcoming year in which he will preside as the senior member of the commission with three years experience. “We just went through a really tough budget session and we had to put 8 percent on the ratepayers as far as an increase.”
Newly elected Commissioner Arie Callaghan will be the board secretary and Dave Timmons, whose term started last January, will be vice president of the three-member board.
They face the impending departure of General Manager Rick Lovely due to retirement, continuing issues with the federal Bonneville Power Administration, and the recently approved rate increase for 2013. The PUD estimates the rate increase will cost an average ratepayer using 1,100 kilowatt-hours a month an additional $7.51 on monthly bills.
“I’m not going back to the public and saying ‘8 percent’ next year,” Skolrood vowed, encouraging employees in attendance to help him find ways to save money and avoid future rate increases.
Skolrood said he had been kept up late at night worrying about the challenges faced by the PUD under his leadership.
“My goal is to find every efficiency we can possibly find in this whole organization,” he said. “It’s going to be done by department heads. It’s going to be done by everyone who works here.”
Skolrood acknowledged he had been inspired by concerned citizens and did not want to waste time on problems that didn’t come with solutions.
“Somewhere down the line we need to get out of the box — everybody, not just management,” Skolrood said. “Pass the word. We need to get the word back to the board so we can get policies that make sense and save the ratepayers money to get us through these tough times.”
About a dozen employees were on hand for the meeting as the commissioners also approved a new three-year contract with Local 77 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers that provides for 2 percent base raises in each year for four exempt employees.
The new contract runs from Feb. 1, 2013, through Jan. 31, 2016, and covers tranmsmission distribution engieers and substation engineers. For Level II employees under the contract with four to seven years experience, the increase sets base monthly salaries at ranges from $6,509-$8,486 in 2013, from $6,704-$8,741 for 2014, and from $6,905-$9,003 for the final year.
Skolrood implored employees and staff to “try and do what is right. But you got to help us find out what’s right.”
If his message wasn’t clear enough, the commissioner, who also is a high school teacher and wrestling coach, said he would talk to individuals “one-on-one.”
“The easiest thing to do that would solve all our problems is to raise rates. But it’s not the right thing to do,” he said. “We need to find a way around it and we need to work hard together. This is Grays Harbor. This is not Puget Sound Energy where we are making a profit. This is where we are trying to give a good service to the people we live with – our family, our friends, our neighbors, everybody.”
Skolrood also encouraged employees to find solutions to problems and to let him know if they are being stymied by superiors.
“I want to know,” he said. “Get our attention and make sure we make the right policies that make sense.”
In closing, he warned: “I’m going to ride this as hard as I can all year, so get used to it.”
Although 2012 saw 46 fewer job orders for PUD service than in 2011, Engineering Manager Wes Gray reported a recent surge for new commercial service, including installing power for an anticipated new Wendy’s restaurant in the Olympic-Gateway Mall near Top Foods.
“We did see an uptick toward the end of the year,” Gray told commissioners. “We have got a couple of commercial projects going in with the expansion of Walmart, and the addition of a fast-food restaurant that we have a request in for.”
For the year, there was an average of 115 new electrical service requests per month, compared to a high of 209 requests per month in 2005, or an average of 119 per month in 2011. Gray said a couple of other new commercial business have been proposed in Aberdeen and were “in the various stages of permitting and evaluating whether they are going to build or not. That is a positive.”
The PUD also continues to see new service requests for new construction in Seabrook south of Pacific Beach and at Ocean Shores, Gray said.