Walter Pierce

JoDu pulls utility rate hike

by Walter Pierce

The Durel administration decided today to pull an LUS rate increase from the agenda on Tuesday, Sept. 29 and to reintroduce the topic as a briefing item in a few weeks. Consequently, when the Lafayette Consolidated Council finalizes City-Parish President Joey Durel’s proposed budget on Sept. 29 — an almost $600 million budget — LUS’ budget within the budget will be more than a million dollars in the red. Sensing they don’t have the votes for it right now, the administration will wait a few weeks before bringing the matter back before the LCC, hoping in the meantime to build public support and to build a case council members will accept by showing them LUS services that will need to be cut in each district if the public utility isn’t given the green light to adjust rates.

“We have to pursue a rate increase,” Durel insists. LUS is seeking a rate increase to cover $150 million in upgrades to infrastructure. According to LUS Director Terry Huval, currently low fuel costs mean that even with an approved rate hike, the average utility bill in Lafayette will fall in 2010 and rise no more than $14 per month, per household, in 2011, although the utility expects that the average rate increase could be as little as .50 cents more per household per month in 2011. “This not $150 million dollars worth of work you do just because you think it’s a neat thing to do, Durel says. “We have to do it.”

“In this position, we sometimes have to make hard decisions,” says District 7 Councilman Don Bertrand, who supports the rate increase. “Noboby wants to raise rates, but we sit on top of a multi-million dollar corporation, not a student government, and sometimes hard choices have to be made.”

The rate hike was met with resistance when it was introduced before the council last week. Three council members voted against it, another indicated he would vote against it if it made it to final adoption, and a fourth was on the fence, saying only that he planned to talk to constituents before making up his mind. Bertrand admits, a utility rate hike is a politically sensitive issue. “Nobody wins by increasing rates,” he admits. “I don’t win politically. It’s not something we want to do, but we know it’s something at some point in time we’re going to have to do. Now’s the time to do it, when we can take advantage of low energy costs. A few years from now when natural gas is back up, and oil prices are back up, is that the time? Does it get any easier then? I don’t think it gets any easier, it’s just going to get harder.”

Durel, meanwhile, sounds confident that, given time, he can sell the council on the increase. “The council will eventually come around,” he predicts. “It’s a question of will they do it when it’s an emergency? Or will they do it to prevent an emergency?”