Councilman Gene Ruane says citizens need immediate relief; other council members say wait until budget review season

Members of a city council committee decided last week not to act on a plan that would have given Dover electricity customers a discount on their bills for the first half of next year, saying they prefer to wait until later in the budget year to consider the issue.

During a Nov. 22 meeting, council’s Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee was told by city finance staff that $1.4 million in excess funds carried over from last year’s Electric Fund budget could be used for a “power cost adjustment” that would cut customer bills by 5% from January through June.

Councilman Gene Ruane asked staff for the potential cost-adjustment percentage several weeks ago when the carry-over surplus was identified in a budget report.

He said council should work quickly and hand out the discount to customers as soon as possible, especially since council voted in July to raise property taxes and other city fees to balance this year’s budget.

“Given the items we had to put into this budget that people are still dealing with, I think it would show good faith to our citizens,” he said.

However, city manager Tony DePrima warned that it’s still early in the budget year and the impact of a power cost adjustment on the Electric Fund isn’t entirely certain.

If the 5% discount were approved for six months, it’s possible rates would have to be increased in next year’s budget, which takes effect in July.

For that reason, DePrima said, the city traditionally holds off on considering cost adjustments until the next year’s budget is being planned.

“Usually our power cost adjustments are done annually with the budget and are effective July 1,” he said. “We don’t know if [costs] pop up, go down or stay the same. We really work that out in our budget.”

Council President Ken Hogan agreed and said the council shouldn’t be hasty.

“I think we’re making the decision too soon, before we have all the facts,” he said.

Hogan said he wouldn’t necessarily advocate putting off a power cost adjustment until next summer, but he would at least like to wait until the city’s mid-year budget review, which usually takes place in March.

After the Legislative and Finance Committee took no action on the proposed discount, Ruane vowed to bring the issue forward at the next regular council meeting Dec. 13 and put the matter to a vote.

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