City’s franchise fee is dark but future’s still bright

What’s going to happen now that voters rejected the franchise agreement with La Plata Electric Association? Because there’s no agreement, when is LPEA going to turn off my power? How much is my utility bill going to go down? Because $900,000 a year won’t be collected, is LPEA going to raise rates? – In the Dark

Better start stockpiling guns and cans of soup. All electricity will be shut off Feb. 11, which happens to be Thomas Edison’s 166th birthday.

In preparation for that deadline, Kroegers will begin stocking vast quantities of oil lamps and candles, and the Durango Public Library will start converting to large-type books to help people read by flickering lights.

Power lines will be removed and sold to China, where copper demand is insatiable.

Meanwhile, area power poles will be recycled into timbers for raised-bed gardens as the town becomes an off-the-grid, sustainable, eco-zone based on subsistence farming.

Fortunately, the city allows residents to raise backyard chickens.

Of course, the real winner in all this is Durango’s Dark Skies Ordinance, which soon will achieve 100 percent compliance.

If you believe that, Action Line would like to sell you a bridge in Grandview.

Simmer down, everyone. Take a deep breath.

And stop calling La Plata Electric Association about the situation. The co-op is merely the middleman.

“La Plata Electric is just a pass-through for the city’s franchise fee,” said Indiana Reed, LPEA spokeswoman. “We collected this on behalf of the city for the right to work and use public rights of way.”

So the lights aren’t going out?

“Absolutely not. We are obligated by law to provide power to all, and we will continue to do so,” she assured.

“There are a lot of people in fear, but the fear is misdirected at us,” she said. “It’s not going to affect the delivery of your electricity.”

LPEA isn’t going to pack up shop. The one thing that will go away is a line item on the power bills for city residents and in-town commercial property owners.

The franchise fee was 4.67 percent of your bill. LPEA collected that amount and immediately gave it to the city. So, city folks’ total power bill will decrease 4.67 percent.

If you live in the county, your total power bill won’t be affected. Electricity rates will remain the same for everyone.

Bottom line, city revenues are taking the hit. The vote puts a $900,000 shortage in the city’s $52.3 million budget.

So now the city has to figure out a way to make it up.

Allow Action Line to offer some helpful suggestions:

When Colorado Springs had a budget crisis, it turned off streetlights. Durango could do something similar and dim all those annoying flashing-yellow left-turn arrows.

Or Durango simply could become one of the 397 nonprofit organizations in La Plata County (seriously, there are that many!) and seek United Way funding and set a donations jar at City Hall.

The city could plan a silent auction with wine and cheese. No, that’s an idea that’s never been tried around here.

How about selling some assets? Chapman Hill would make a fine Six Flags water park.

Toll booths on the new section of Florida Road certainly would generate revenue.

Likewise, why not establish first-class seating on the trolley? Friendly attendants would serve drinks and pull back a curtain that separates the hoi polloi from the prime passengers who will pay extra for the service.

Let’s get creative. Someone will have a light-bulb moment now that the electric-utility fee is gone.

Email questions or city budget ideas to actionline@durangoherald.com or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301. You can request anonymity free if you pay a modest service charge.