The City of Bend is considering updates to agreements with franchise utilities that could pose significant changes to utility practices in the public right of way.
Russ Grayson, City of Bend community services director, presented council with suggested Bend Code revisions for the use of public right of way during the work session on Wednesday. The code modifications explained were changes to sidewalk vegetation, right-of-way permits, revocable right-of-way permits and franchise utilities. Several of the code changes could result in increased fees to utility companies, which would ultimately impact consumers.
The topic of franchise agreements was first presented to council in October. Grayson said outreach to the franchises began in the fall and a franchise stakeholder meeting was held in January.
Grayson said City staff was looking for direction from council on four key issues:
- Who should pay for costs of utility relocation resulting from non-City public projects – the districts’ taxpayers or the franchisees’ ratepayers?
- To what extent should the franchises pay for right-of-way permits?
- Street Restoration Policies
- Should Central Electric Coop (CEC) continue to deduct its costs of power from its gross revenues when other energy utilities do not get the same deduction?
Currently, the City has 12 individual separate franchise agreements with utilities, each of which are individually negotiated. Representatives from the different utilities including Pacific Power, CEC, Cascade Natural Gas, BendBroadband and CenturyLink addressed council during the work session on Wednesday.
Dave Markham, president and CEO of CEC, said each utility is unique and has different requirements, depending on the services it is providing.
“One of the things … talked about was standardizing practices for all utilities,” Markham said. “That may appear to create some efficiencies for the City, but it forces the departure of the standards that we’ve developed specifically for each utility. Doing something like that, it will create some unnecessary costs and it really lessens efficiencies for us.”
Markham said CEC received responses from 443 of its members with a clear message: They don’t want to see an increase in costs from the code amendments.
Angela Price, Pacific Power regional community manager, also took the podium to address council. She said the use of the public right of way is a privilege, but a privilege Pacific Power pays for.
Over the past two years, she said Pacific Power has paid $3.4 million to the City. If Pacific Power is asked to pay more, she said that cost will be passed to Pacific Power consumers, many who don’t live in Bend.
“Being invited to provide input to council and help them understand the complexity and the impacts of decisions they may be making is critical,” Price said after the work session. “I’m confident that as these conversations proceed, citizens of Bend who are also franchise utility rate payers, will be well served.”
Councilors plan on discussing fees related to franchise agreements during their financial retreat. A public hearing will also be held in April on the topic of franchise agreements.