City’s electric fund hit hard by economic downturn

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By Tom Wilmoth

Members of Bedford City Council got a brief look Tuesday at how the city weathered this past year’s financial downturn.

    In most areas, the city appears to have been able to cut and save from the proposed budget to weather the storm. But the city’s electric fund didn’t fare as well — falling more than $2 million short of what had been anticipated.
    Much of that shortfall came from less power being used by area industrial customers hit by the tough economic times. With less power being used, the city ended up having to sell more of its excess power on the open market for less than it had anticipated.
    “You can’t but take that kind of hit but so many times,” stated Rosie Jordan, the city’s director of finance.
    The city still transferred $1.13 million from the electric fund to the city’s general fund, but that was about $300,000 less than had been budgeted.
    The financial briefing came during a finance committee meeting Tuesday, held prior to the regular meeting. The figures presented by Jordan were a preliminary summary of the fiscal year-end numbers. Those figures still have to be audited for the official year-end report.
    “The year ended up reasonably well, considering what we have gone through,” Jordan told the finance committee.
    In order to save money, the city scaled back or didn’t complete a number of capital projects. The general, water and sewer and solid waste funds were all expected to end up with positive numbers for the year.
    “Sales were off,” Jordan said of the issue with the electric fund, adding that those lost sales couldn’t be made up.
    City Manager Charles Kolakowski said the electric fund has begun to stabilize over the past six months. “The first six months of the fiscal year were horrible,” he said. “I don’t know of any of the industrial customers who were running at 40-hour weeks. ... When they weren’t operating, they weren’t buying electricity.”
    Kolakowski said that last year turned into a “perfect storm” of sorts when it came to problems with electric sales. But compared to last year, the electric sales are looking better this year, he added.
    Councilman James Vest stated during the regular council meeting that city staff had done a “herculean effort” in helping the city get through this past year’s economic downturn.
    Prior to receiving the report the finance committee discussed a proposal of providing a personal property tax exemption for any city taxpayers who are totally disabled veterans. The city currently has only a couple of taxpayers who would fall into that category and providing that exemption would mean about $300 in lost tax revenue.
    City Mayor Skip Tharp said it would be a way to honor those veterans’ service to the country. Council will have the opportunity to enact that tax exemption through an ordinance during a later regular council meeting.
    In other action at Tuesday’s regular meeting:
    Ben Witt was appointed to a four-year term on the Central Virginia Community College Board, said term to expire June 30, 2014.
    City Council approved the Equal Opportunity Employer Statement.