From time to time, it’s important for the leaders we elect to stand up and be counted on the important issues of the day. Issues such as whether or not the city should end its contract with Black Hills Energy and set up its own electricity service.
Although citizens ultimately will decide that question through their votes in the May 5 referendum, it’s helpful to know where our elected council members stand. Particularly since they have been closer to the issue over the last couple of years than the average citizen has.
By a 4-3 vote last Monday, the council majority opposed the proposed switchover to a city-run electric company. We happen to agree with council members Larry Atencio, Dennis Flores, Bob Schilling and Lori Winner that it’s not in the city’s best interests to pursue “municipalization” of the electric service right now.
There are a lot of reasons the council members could have given for their decision, but maybe the easiest way to sum it all up is that the potential risks of this proposed venture outweigh the potential rewards.
The city’s own consultant acknowledged the costs of purchasing the equipment and infrastructure needed to go into the electric business could approach $1 billion. Supporters of the referendum point out that taxpayer dollars wouldn’t be used for that purpose. That’s correct. Ratepayer dollars would be used instead. But since taxpayer dollars and ratepayer dollars come from the same source, it’s a distinction without a difference.
The consultant said the city could save a lot of money by taking over the electric service, but there’s no explanation of how or when that might happen.
Rather than focus on such inconvenient details, Mayor Nick Gradisar and other referendum supporters have been spending a lot of time lately complaining that a group opposing the measure hasn’t disclosed the names of the people who are financially supporting its efforts.
This is just a smokescreen. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that all of the group’s money came from Black Hills or people who are aligned with the company in some way. So what? Did anyone really expect Black Hills was going to give up its customers in Pueblo without a fight?
Company officials have said none of the money collected from Pueblo ratepayers would be used to campaign against the referendum. Instead, the company is using money invested by its shareholders. That’s a funding source a city-run utility company wouldn’t have, by the way.
And let’s not forget that the city spent a substantial amount of taxpayer money on the consultant’s study that has been the primary source of information used by municipalization supporters to make their case.
If Pueblo residents are subsidizing one side in this fight, it’s clearly the pro-municipalization side, whether they want to or not.
Which gets back to why the council majority’s vote in opposition to municipalization is so important. Even though the city paid for the consultant’s study and Gradisar has gone all-in in support of municipalization, it’s significant to note that city government, through its elected council members, hasn’t officially endorsed the idea.
Given that city government would be running the new electric company if the referendum passes, that’s certainly something to think about.