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District estimates $200K utility overage



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March 26, 2014 - Just like homeowners have seen increases in both their heat and electric bills due to the harsh winter season, schools are no different.

According to Assistant Superintendent of Business & Finance Pamela Anstey, Oxford community schools is estimated by their utility marketer, Proliance, to have nearly $200,000 budget shortfalls in utilities ($108,905 gas and $89,774 for electricity) at the end of the fiscal year in June. Originally the district had budgeted $304,400 for gas and $645,960 for electric bringing their total to $950,360 for utilities.

For both gas and electric Proaliance is recommending they budget their utilities for both gas and electric at $1.110,000, which would be a $159,640 increase from this year's original budget.

"They estimated (that increase) based on what they think they can get our rate to," Anstey said. "However, that amount will have to be renegotiated June 30 because that's when their contract is up."

The current rate they pay on gas is $5.90 per BTU (British Thermal Unit) and $5.22 per kilowatt for electric.

The plan to make up the near $200,000 shortfall at this point is, "cost containment and postponing things."

"It's sort of a wait and see," added Anstey. "We've put it out there (to the district) that we need to buy only what we need to buy (at this time)."

As to what things they're considering postponing, she could not say.

"By year-end we'll know," she said.

Reasons for the increase in gas costs include keeping the heat running at night so the pipes didn't freeze. According to Maintenance Supervisor Bruce Biebuyck, they kept the heat at 62 degrees at night and between 68 to 70 degrees during the day "depending on the building or program."

As for the electricity increase, Biebuyck said all return blowers and individual heat units in each classroom are run by an electric motor.

Oxford is not alone. Both Clarkston and Lake Orion have experienced an increase in their utilities as well.

"Yes the harsh winter has been tough on our utilities budget," said Jennifer Kimmell, facilities and energy supervisor for Clarkston Schools. "We are thankful for the energy management program in our district and any/all efforts from our staff to conserve as much energy as possible."

Clarkston budgeted $1,376,000 for heat and electricity. Currently they have spent $508,833 on electric and $308,318 on gas.

"At this point we have not spent more than our budget because we have only paid through January," Kimmell said. "We are expecting at the end of the school year to be about $150,000 - $200,000 over budget."

Like Oxford, Clarkston and Lake Orion both purchase their utilities through procurement. Lake Orion's Assistant Superintendent of Business & Finance John Fitzgerald said they have experienced an increased electrical cost of 5 percent

"Because the heating equipment that uses electricity is running a lot more then in a 'normal' winter situation (and) some days they are running 24/7," Fitzgerald explained. "Our natural gas usage is trending up a little over 10 percent from plan and costs per MCF (Million Cubic Feet) is up as well. So our budget is running 10 percent over budget."

Originally Orion budgeted $524,000, which is going to be moved up to $575,000 for gas and $1,050,000 for electric. To date they have spent $358,717 on gas through February and $668,535 on electric through March.

"We have no plans as of yet to increase this budget even with the known increase due to increased usage of the heating equipment," Fitzgerald noted.

Anstey and Fitzgerald both agree that there is a need to "pray for spring."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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