Walter Pierce

LPUA shoots down LUS rate increase

by Walter Pierce

By a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, the Lafayette Public Utilities Authority voted down a proposed rate increase for Lafayette Utilities System. LUS Director Terry Huval had sought the rate increase to cover the public utility’s $23 million contribution to a more than $200 million upgrade of the utility grid serving the Acadiana area (CLECO and Entergy are footing the remainder of the cost) while still maintaining LUS’ current operating and maintenance budget. Huval has cautioned council members that a failure to approve a rate increase could lead to job losses and skimping on routine maintenance like tree trimming, which helps mitigate the duration of black-outs following hurricanes.

After more than 90 minutes of back-and-forth questioning by the council of Huval and representatives of the non-profit utility authority that governs a multi-state region that includes Louisiana, council members who comprise the LPUA — the five members of the council whose districts have at least 60 percent city-of-Lafayette residency  — shot down the rate hike. Voting for the rate increase were Keith Patin (District 8) and Don Bertrand (District 7); voting against were Brandon Shelvin (District 3), Kenneth Boudreaux (District 4) and Sam Dore (District 6).

Huval has argued that since utility rates are tied to fuel costs and fuel costs are expected to drop next year, even with a rate increase the average utility bill in Lafayette would fall in 2010 and rise as little as .50 and no more than $14 per month in 2011.

The discussion reached a crescendo when the patience of Boudreaux, an opponent of the rate increase from the outset, became threadbare. “Everything that happened here tonight is a dog and pony show,” he fumed at one point, accusing Huval and City-Parish President Joey Durel of pulling the ordinance more than a month ago in order to shore up support on the council. “I’d like to know how many of you have experienced a black out when there isn’t a hurricane,” Boudreaux insisted, “when you simply don’t have the money to pay your bill!”

Boudreaux’s rhetorical flourishes raised the hackles of Bertrand, who interrupted his colleague to take umbrage at the suggestion that the rate increase was pulled for strategic purposes. Council Chairman Purvis Morrison (District 1) later diffused the acrimony by acknowledging that he was the one who asked the administration to pull the ordinance earlier this fall in order to give the public more time to explore the issue. Because the rate hike was denied by the five-member LPUA, a vote by the nine-member Lafayette City-Parish Council was unnecessary.

This week, the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce endorsed the rate hike; the Lafayette Parish Executive Committee of the Democratic Party issued a statement opposing it.