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Mayor Rolane Christofferson of Terry was getting ready Thursday to write a letter to the Public Service Commission protesting a proposed rate increase by Montana-Dakota Utilities.
As requested, the higher electric rate would increase bills for the average residential customer by 19.2%, according to the PSC.
“I’ll certainly address the fact that we are an elderly community, probably the largest percentage, and a lot of them are on fixed incomes,” Christofferson said in a phone call.
She said the 582 or so residents of Terry already are paying more because of a wastewater project. With a recent statewide increase in property tax appraisals, she said she anticipates they will be looking at paying more in taxes as well.
“It’s just a lot for our elderly with food increases and fuel increases. Rent has gone nuts,” Christofferson said.
She and other leaders of small towns in eastern Montana are sending letters to the PSC expressing the hardships that would result from the proposed increase. The PSC regulates monopoly utilities in Montana.
The proposed rate increase would affect 25,600 customers.
MDU has argued it needs the additional dollars because it has made more investments in the utility since 2018 and has itself experienced increases in property taxes, labor, software maintenance and other “recent inflationary increases.”
“Current prices do not reflect the cost of providing electric service to our Montana customers, which is why we are requesting this increase,” wrote Nicole Kivisto, president and CEO of MDU, in a statement on the utility’s website.
In February, the Public Service Commission approved an interim rate increase of 2.7%.
If approved by the PSC, a proposed settlement would result in an increase of 9.1% to residents, but customers aren’t satisfied with that amount either.
In June, commissioners heard opposition to the rates at a public meeting in Miles City, including from people who pointed out the millions of dollars flowing into the MDU CEO’s pocket.
Next week, the PSC has scheduled another public hearing. It will take place 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 25, in Sidney at the Montana State University Extension Richland County Office. A livestream also will be available.
Last week, the commissioners signed the notice to hold the hearing in Sidney, but they’ve already been hearing from officials in other communities in eastern Montana.
In a letter dated May 5, Mayor Teresea Olson of Glendive requested the PSC deny the rate increase “for the financial health of our community.”
She and the governing council said Glendive already is struggling in the post-Covid-19 economy, and the increase would affect small businesses with a 15.1% hike and larger ones with a 12.9% increase.
Plus, she said the town of some 4,800 has an aging community with people on fixed incomes.
“With recession looming, we simply cannot allow a rate increase of this magnitude to basic living expenses,” Olson said.
Forsyth Mayor Dennis Kopitzke echoed the message in a letter dated July 12. Kopitzke said all the town’s 1,550 residents, elderly ones and younger families, would be negatively affected, as would its large and small businesses.
“The proposed increases on top of general inflation that has substantially increased the costs of food, transportation and other essential necessities will impose even more financial burden on our community members,” said Kopitzke on behalf of the Forsyth City Council and community members.
One community leader who has been advocating against the increase is calling on legislators to intervene as well.
Mary Catherine Dunphy of Miles City — whose mayor and council also submitted a protest letter to the PSC — said small, rural communities are experiencing hardship.
In a letter she forwarded to the PSC, Dunphy urged her lawmakers to use their influence to ask the PSC to reverse the 2.7% increase.
She offered an estimate of the additional amount she believes MDU should receive.
“Nada. Zilch. 0%,” Dunphy wrote.
The PSC listening session will commence on July 25, 2023, at 6 p.m., at the MSU Extension Richland County Office, located at 1499 N. Central Ave, in Sidney, Montana. The listening session will be live streamed on the Commission’s website (http://psc.mt.gov). Comment at this session may be provided in-person, by telephone, or by videoconference. Commenters participating by telephone or videoconference must sign up to receive participation instructions. To sign up, please contact the Commission at 1-800-646-6150 or [email protected] by 5 p.m. on July 24, 2023.
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