Preparing for winter, paying for summer

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COLUMBIA - Clean up and power line repairs have long since finished after a July storm knocked out power for 14,000 Columbia residents. But, Columbia Water and Light just wrapped up final budgeting from the storm this month. 

"We probably lose power 2 to 3 times a year," Columbia resident Christine Curtis, said.

Specifically, back in July, this is the situation 14,000 Columbia residents found themselves in, after a storm came through uprooting trees and disrupting power.

For the first time in over 20 years, Columbia Water and Light found itself in a position where they needed help.

"By the morning and the light of day we saw the amount of debris and the amount of things that needed to be repaired," Connie Kacprowicz, Columbia Water and Light utility services specialist, said.

"So the city manager actually declared an emergency allowing us to bring in help through our mutual aid program," said Kacprowicz.

While bringing in extra help allowed Water and Light to restore utilities, it came with a price tag.

In a report presented to the Water and Light advisory earlier this month, it showed the city spent $822,151 on storm repairs. Taking out labor costs it would have regularly paid,the final total ended just under $800,000. 

"With this storm it was more of the manpower expense, than the actual equipment," said Kacprowicz.

Water and Light was able to take the money from a reserve fund. "Part of our planning process, with our budget, is setting aside a certain amount of funds for emergencies like this," said Kacprowicz.

"I expect that the services that I pay for are provided in a timely manner," said Christine Curtis, Columbia resident.

For some residents the extra help and extra money, paid off, while others waited in darkness longer.

"Yeah it was only out a couple of hours," said Christine Curtis. "It's never fun. It's obviously something you never plan for."

Water and Light does prepare and plan as much as they can. Kacprowicz says mother nature is one the biggest causes of power outages.

"We spend about two million dollars a year on tree trimming, its not very popular with people, no one really likes to see any of their trees being trimmed but its storm like we had in July that could have been a lot worse if we didn't have the tree trimming," said Kacprowicz.

She says trimming trees as a preventative measures will continue as the winter storm season approaches.

"That's one of the biggest things we can do to make sure the lines don't come down during high winds or ice storms," said Kacprowicz.

While Kacprowicz says that tree trimming prevented the July storm from being any worse, it's a controversial action for some residents.

Looking ahead, the Columbia City Council approved increased utility rates for Water and Light to go into affect, October 1st.

Kacprowiscz says they look into many variables before recommending a rate increase.

"Anything like storms, or any upgrades that we need to do to our power production facilities, or the cost of the power that we either produce or buy, any of those types of expenses is when we look for rate increase," she said.

Curtis says despite all the places she has lived she thinks Columbia does a good job in the utility sector.

"You are either having to deal with higher utility bills because of the heat or snow removal in the winter but I think Columbia does a pretty good job of taking care of it," she said.