Pacific Power customers in the city of Albany have been paying 5 percent of their light bills to the city government for years, and they'll pay 7 percent starting now. The city council Wednesday adopted an ordinance to that effect, brushing aside objections from Councilor Rich Kellum that an "emergency clause" was not justified in this case.
The ordinance has such a clause, letting it take effect immediately. Without it, it would have taken effect in 30 days, costing the city and saving ratepayers an estimated $75,000.
The council action drew objections from North Albany resident Tom Cordier, who pointed out that the two-point boost was in fact a 40 percent increase in this particular tax. Councilor Bessie Johnson, retired from the Linn County tax office, was puzzled by this assertion, but Cordier did the math for the council. (Seven minus five equals two; two divided by five times one hundred equals forty.)
Cordier asked the council to have more of a public discussion about an increase that large -- estimated to yield more than $900,000 over a year's time in city revenue -- and he urged that a public hearing be called, to no avail.
The ordinance grants Pacific Power a franchise and fixes the franchise fee at 7 percent of gross revenue, replacing the 5 percent privilege tax it has been collecting and paying the city. The ordinance had its first reading two weeks before, and on Wednesday the council adopted it after its second reading, 5-1, with Kellum voting no..
The council took no action on an alternative version drafted since the last meeting, intended to made numbering changes to better conform to the municipal code and also exempt Pacific from paying the city's 5 percent privilege tax now that it will pay a 7 percent franchise fee.
Under state rules, Pacific can itemize on customers' bills any city fee above 3.5 points, but it must pay the city the total, even the part not itemized. For the arithmetically challenged, the city's share of a Pacific Power bill of $100 until now was $5, and starting today -- or as soon as the utility can adjust its billing software -- it will be $7. But only $3.50 will be itemized on the bill.
This is not be the end of it. The alternative ordinance will have to be adopted lest Pacific be forced to hit customers with the franchise fee plus the 5 percent privilege tax on electric service in Albany. And Cordier is unlikely to let go of his point that the public should get a voice on increases such as this. (hh)