Alexandria mayor addresses possible utility changes

Source: KALB

ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Will the City of Alexandria change the city’s utilities system?

Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall’s administration wants to clarify “speculation and concern” after they proposed hiring a consulting firm to look at “options for changes to the current utilities system,” among other things.

At the last city council meeting, council members voted to table the ordinance to hire Kyte Consulting LLC out of Ruston to “provide an independent perspective on various strategic options regarding the city's utilities system.” After a little discussion, the agenda item was referred to the finance committee and will be reintroduced at the next council meeting.

Now on Friday evening, Hall’s administration sent out a news release that said, “Our proposal to the City Council has attracted a great deal of attention from the public and the media, which is leading to a great deal of speculation and concern.”

Mayor Jeff Hall and his Chief of Staff, Susan Broussard, were both longtime employees of Cleco. At one point, Hall worked as senior vice president of the company and Broussard worked as general manager of human resources. Cleco is a power company that serves much of Cenla, including 288,000 customers in 24 parishes across Louisiana. Last week, KALB asked Mayor Hall during a news conference if selling the city’s utilities to Cleco was an option. Hall said that there were “no options” at this time.

“We are committed to being transparent with this process. I think it is important that, based on some of the things we are hearing, I clarify some points in order to make sure there are no misunderstandings about this important issue,” said Mayor Hall in the prepared release.

In the news release, Mayor Hall said the recommendation to assess the city’s utilities was developed by a panel of nine well-known Alexandria citizens who volunteered during the mayor’s transition process. The mayor said the third-party consultant would “assess critical city utility infrastructure and develop a long-term plan for key assets and operations, with a focus on risk management and cost controls for utility operations (particularly water and wastewater functions).”

The city has been running its own independent utility system, rather than a private company. The resolution said the agreement will cost the city $50,000 to provide an “independent perspective on various strategic options regarding the city’s utilities system.” The resolution also said it will allow Kyte Consulting LLC to provide support in implementing “public understanding,” media relations and options related to the utility system.

The mayor said in the city’s latest audit, the “sale of utilities is fairly consistent, but there is no trend of growth.” Mayor Hall said previous administrations conducted similar assessments.

“I support conducting an independent, third-party assessment of the utility system, as a starting point, so the citizens of Alexandria can understand the long-term costs and benefits of our assets,” Mayor Hall said. “And I believe it is important to look and see if there might be ways to provide adequate reliable services more efficiently and at a lower cost.”

Mayor Hall said the consultant wouldn’t be participating in the assessment, but would aid the city in communicating the results of their study.

According to the Kyte Consulting LLC website, John Kyte, "practiced energy and environmental law and regulation in Washington, D.C., specializing in congressional and government agency affairs, and media strategy. He also served as Director of Environmental Quality for the National Association of Manufacturers, as Vice President of Legislative Affairs for The New England Council, Inc., and as Public Information Manager for New Hampshire Yankee, acting as spokesman, emergency planner and federal lobbyist for the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant."

“My goal, and I believe my responsibility as Mayor, is to ensure the citizens of Alexandria have robust, reliable services at a cost they can afford,” Mayor Hall said. “If the current system is the best way to meet those needs, then that is great. If changes can be made that make the system more efficient, more sustainable for the long-term and more affordable, I believe the citizens of Alexandria should know that and have a voice in how their utility services are supplied. After all, they are the ones paying for it.”

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