City electrical rates are 11% lower rates than competitors


Jacob Rice

Ward 4 Rep. Rachel Junck, Jan. 24.

The Ames City Council continued in their series of meetings to review the proposed budget, highlighting Electrical Services, the Fire Department and the Parks and Recreational Services Department Wednesday night.

Electric Utilities

The Electrical Services department proposed a 5.4% increase to their budget, which would be roughly $60.2 million.

Donald Kom, the city’s director of electrical services, said their energy sale hit an all-time high, toppling pre-pandemic levels at 630 GWh.

“We’re basically filling in the valleys,” Kom said. “We’re basically utilizing the wires that we have and the generation resources and the access to the market better, so selling more energy is actually a good thing as people are maybe converting from gasoline engines to electric cars and things like that.”

Kom said overall electricity rates in Ames are 11% lower when compared to Midland Power Cooperative, Alliant Energy and Consumers Energy. Specifically, Kom said residential rates are 20% lower, commercial rates are 10% lower and industrial rates are 4% higher.

Kom said prospectively, the city’s Climate Action Plan will be a big driver for his department.

“We have a wind and solar RFP (request for proposal),” Kom said. “We got the results in, and there is a team that is currently studying them. It is more solar than wind.”

Kom said the power plant now has the capabilities for a black start, meaning that Ames does not need to rely on an external power source to restart their electricity grid should it go down.

“It’s not a fast process; it’s not minutes,” Kom said, “but it could take us quite a bit quicker than it took when we had the derecho.”

Kom said Ames is a destination spot for travelers with electric vehicles.

“Right now they have chargers at the Iowa-Minnesota border there at the casino, […] and Dows just had some put in, but between there and here, people want to get here– especially using that DC fast charger,” Kom said. “It’s set up where you can go in, grab a burger, charge for 30 minutes, and that then gets you through Des Moines.”

Fire Department

The Fire Department proposed a 3.5% increase to the fire safety budget, which amounts to $8.58 million. Rich Higgins, fire chief for the city of Ames, thanked Iowa State for their contributions to the department.

“[Iowa State] contributes 25% to our operating budget, which is gonna be a little over $2.1 million for next year,” Higgins said. “They also pay 25% of our debt service on our apparatus purchases.”

In regard to community outreach and engagement, Higgins highlighted the department’s family appreciation event.

“It’s an event that we hosted just to take a moment with our fire department families and reflect on all of the accomplishments we’ve had over the year,” Higgins said.

According to Higgins, the event included recognizing promoted firefighters, swearing in new firefighters and issuing challenge coins.

Higgins said firefighters are given a challenge coin when they first join the department, but they can also be given three different challenge coins if they either: saved someone’s life who was in imminent danger, delivered a baby or resuscitated someone using CPR.

Higgins highlighted a change in the department’s fire testing, having said they changed their old model of testing firefighters for a model that more closely resembles pressures they may face in the field.

“In other fire departments they do a similar test,” Higgins said. “We hope we can get to the point one day where if you did a similar test over in Iowa City—or somewhere in Missouri or a different state—that you could come in and present a card to us that would meet our same physical fitness standard.”

Higgins added that a truck they sent for refurbishment should return by April, providing the department with two ladder trucks.

Parks and Recreational Services

The city’s Parks and Recreation department proposed a 9.9% increase to their budget. Keith Abraham, director of parks and recreational services for the city, said community engagement with parks and recreational services has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which he said had an impact on revenue.

“There’s an impact on participation,” Abraham said. “Some things have come back and we’re ahead of pre-pandemic levels; there are some things that […] aren’t quite back yet.”

Abraham reported to the council that his department had received $215,000 in grants to date. He said they have applied for a $500,000 grant to go toward the new aquatic center, an $100,000 grant for pickleball and tennis court renovations and a land and water conservation grant to go toward a new community park.

Abraham said the city’s gymnastics program, tennis program and camps have seen an increase in registrations.

“In fact, with tennis, it’s the highest number that we’ve had with registrations,” Abraham said.

Abraham said the city has had to relocate programs and reduce drop-in gym time due to limited use of gym space.

“In the past, we have used the school district– almost every one of their elementary schools,” Abraham said. “This year, because of some of the custodial issues that they’ve had, we’ve been limited to only Kate Mitchell.”

Financial report

Utility Customer Service, which according to city documents works to provide customer service assistance, meter reading, utility billing and collection services, proposed a 3.2% increase to their budget.

In regard to the city’s parking violation collection, the budget is proposed to be raised by $2,669. City documents cite Iowa State’s transition to ParkMobile-only meters as a cause for potential expenditure increase, stating that the city may see an increase in expenses for smart cards.

Corey Goodenow, the city’s director of finance, noted the city’s implementation of adding other payment methods such as Venmo, PayPal and Amazon Pay to pay parking violations.

“That is a product of the payment collection system that we use,” Goodenow said, “just another option for people to make payment.”

Goodenow noted the establishment of an additional tax incremental financing (TIF) district during his presentation.

“One of the things I think we mentioned during budget night was the exciting decrease in utilization of property tax evaluation for TIF collection,” Goodenow said. “The ISU Research Park and South Bell TIF districts have captured enough increment and revenue to provide enough revenue to service that debt, which is a really positive sign.”