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Archive for Monday, April 9, 2007

Utilities board will receive review, not state regulation

April 9, 2007

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— The Board of Public Utilities will undergo a state review of its financial management rather than be placed under state regulation.

The BPU has an elected board, selected by Wyandotte County voters, and does not fall under oversight by the Kansas Corporation Commission.

That would have changed under legislation pushed by Sen. Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City. He argued that the utility could not be trusted and state oversight was necessary.

The Senate supported Steineger's proposal, but the House did not follow suit. Other Wyandotte County legislators questioned giving the state authority over an issue that the county's voters could address.

In January, the board's Ethics Commission cited failures by the utility in controlling the use of its credit cards. Managers ran up $15,000 dollars worth of meal and entertainment expenses from 2004 to 2006.

As a compromise, the chairmen of the House and Senate utility committees will ask the regulatory body to review the its finances and management over a two-year span. The results of that study will go to the Legislature in February 2008.

Steineger called the review a start.

"I welcome professional utility regulators to ask thoughtful questions of the BPU," he said. "I continue to receive calls and e-mails from folks with horror stories about their utility bills and service problems."

Sen. Jay Emler, a Lindsborg Republican who chairs the Senate Utility Committee, said lawmakers want to see whether the situation has improved snce Don Gray became the utility's general manager in December 2005.

Gray said the utility, which serves more than 65,000 customers, would work with lawmakers and the KCC and would provide any information they request.

"They have indicated to me, 'We got the message; we understand,"' Emler said. "I trust they know people will be watching."

Joe Reardon, mayor of the Unified Government, said he was glad that the state had not taken over the BPU's rate-setting authority.

"It certainly was the position that I had advocated for," Reardon said.

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