EES makes final budget cuts

By Julie Fann
star staff

Elizabethton Electric System board members yesterday made last changes to the proposed 2002-2003 budget in an effort to reduce costs. Expected revenue loss due to the closing of the Alcoa Aluminum plant resulted in final budget cuts that total $110,000.
   "We don't have control over Alcoa leaving, but we do have control over how we spend our money. We're going to go through a learning process this year when we see just what our revenues are. As a board member, it's just not good management to spend more money than you're taking in," Chairman Gary Nave told the board.
   The long held plans of Manager Phil Isaacs to increase spending on tree-trimming costs from $535,000 last year to $700,000 in the proposed budget took the most damage. The board decided to reduce those increases by $100,000.
   "This is just a strange situation with losing this customer; losing this revenue. It's just hard to spend $200,000 more on something when you're losing $200,000," Nave said.
   Isaacs had budgeted the extra dollars hoping to catch up on a project that he said has fallen behind since the early '90s. He also anticipated a reduction in overtime hours from the extra expenditure.
   "It's money well spent. In talking with some of the guys last week down there in Nashville, a lot of people are seeing a lot of tree growth and a lot more maintenance problems due to trees, and I was wondering if it was just us," Isaacs said.
   The board weighed the option of tree-trimming in the fall rather than spring, since trees would weigh less and be without leaves. Isaacs said he worried colder weather would reduce production levels.
   Yearly dues totaling $10,000 that are paid to a national non-profit organization, APPA (American Public Power Association), were also eliminated. The board decided to end its membership with the group which lobbies on behalf of municipal power plants.
   Board members also decided to reduce only by half the amount of money budgeted for a program that allows customers to pay their electric bill through their bank. Roughly 3,000 customers per month utilize the service that EES plans to slowly eliminate.
   "For now, why don't we just keep it like it is, and when December comes, if there's an outcry from the public we'll extend it six more months and increase the draft program," Nave said. The board wants to encourage customers to use a draft option that automatically withdraws from bank accounts the amount customers owe.
   Total budget changes raised the proposed bottom line net income from $664,050 to $774,050. The board will vote to approve the new budget next week at its monthly meeting.
   Isaacs said he wanted the public to realize that board members don't receive payment for the time and energy they devote to EES and thanked them for their efforts.
   "I think we've turned over every stone," Nave said.