Has local utility board gone haywire?

By: Suzanne Penegor and Gienie Assink

Rule #1: It’s always easier to spend someone else’s money,
especially when the money spent comes from taxpayers. Or in this instance, ratepayers.

Local activist Sang Suynh has been attending EWEB (Eugene Water and Electric Board) meetings regularly as a concerned Eugene citizen following a 2 year debate of whether to relocate EWEB offices. As Suynh puts it, ratepayers will end up footing the bill for new office buildings which he feels are unnecessary at a time when EWEB finds itself in a 55 percent debt to asset ratio.

As a ratepayer, Suynh is concerned that utility rates in Eugene will go up as much as 10 percent a year for 4 years if the Eugene City Council approves such a plan. He is equally concerned that EWEB and city officials will try to enact existing plans and relocate the building without voter approval–incurring additional municipal debt by issuing bonds to pay for it.

Suynh compared the debt situation that EWEB management has incurred to the Springfield Utility Board, another local utility company who has no debt whatsoever. Suynh says this is a matter of poor management on the part of EWEB, and in particular, by its general manager. He said much of the current debt has been incurred since GM Randy Bergren has been heading EWEB.

Suynh stated the EWEB board is unwilling to answer questions by the public or by ratepayers such as himself, so he is taking is concerns on the road, hoping to get support for an initiative
petition if necessary and put any bonds to pay for a new EWEB office building before Eugene voters. The proposed building has been estimated to cost tax payers a total of $83 million, he said.

Suynh said EWEB owns a considerable amount of land in the Eugene area and if the offices were relocated, the city has expressed an interest in the land where the offices are currently””for plans to build a public park.

Suynh said not much interest has been shown by the EWEB board to consider renovating the existing EWEB office building. Parts of the EWEB offices were built in the 1940s, additions were built in the 1980s.

Suynh encouraged other concerned Eugene residents to attend the EWEB board meetings for more information and write letters to the editor in local newspapers to educate the public on the current debate and what voters may face in the upcoming months.

To find out more about this issue please click on EWEB Debate to hear the audio recording of this discussion through the Rubicon Society website.