Greensboro, Hardwick, News

HED Commissioners offer $1,000 Employee Bonus

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HARDWICK — At the June 17 regular meeting, the board of commissioners of the Hardwick Electric Department (HED) heard from Stew Arnold with the Greensboro Association’s (GA) Lake Protection Committee, discussed plans and progress on hiring a new general manager, had their first report from new Interim Manager Scott Johnstone, and established an employee bonus program to encourage current employees to remain with the department through the end of December.

Improving customer satisfaction was a recurring theme of the meeting, factoring into how customers are billed for upgrades and how quickly new transformers can be installed for those upgrades.

After general housekeeping matters and public comments from Arnold, Johnstone reported applications have come in from the job posting for a new general manager that is “available all over the world,” though he wouldn’t comment on the number in a public session.

He suggested establishing a process of screening applications, then having commissioners review the screened candidates, with each commissioner selecting those candidates they suggest interviewing. Board Chair Lynne Gedanken asked that Opie (Upson, Hardwick town manager) and Eric (Remick, Hardwick select board chair) be involved in the process and a list of questions be developed to ask the candidates. Johnstone said he would screen the applications with Controller and Business Office Supervisor Beth Essary, and develop a preliminary list of industry-specific questions, then work with commissioners to prioritize the questions.

Roger Prevot suggested the first candidate interview be scheduled for an hour on Zoom, to avoid travel expenses. Others noted a local candidate might be interviewed in person and that a process be implemented to help the selected candidate to be successful. Johnstone offered that, if one candidate stands out after the first interview, others might not be necessary. He also said that the HED general manager position is a good one for a good utility, with good compensation and HED should expect to find a good candidate.

Sen. Sanders’ office has included HED’s request to fund sluice gate work on HED’s Wolcott dam power plant in its Congressionally Directed Spending (CDS) request for this year, said Johnstone, who suggested the chance of it being approved might be low because the Department of Energy hates CDS requests.

Essary reported FEMA Loan interest is now 100% reimbursable for loans incurred to fund disaster response.

Johnstone recommended that commissioners and HED staff begin to gather a list of all projects that involve water movement and for which any level of flood mitigation funding might be useful, cooperating with the town where it makes sense. State and federal officials are then available to visit the town and suggest what options might be best to fund each project, though he cautioned that some funding might come with strings attached that could make it a bad decision to accept those funds.

Remick offered a list of HED dams that flood mitigation funding might be useful for and Gedanken commented that she thought an inspection of HED’s Wolcott dam might not have been done since the July 2023 flood. Employee Brian Forant thought that previous HED general manager, Mike Sullivan, might have had some sort of inspection done, but wasn’t sure and Johnstone said he would look into it.

Johnstone’s review of his general manager’s report noted several areas for future consideration, with commissioners taking time to discuss how customers are billed for system upgrades required when those customers request changes.

Gedanken offered that she thinks what has been happening is wrong when the utility benefits from how the cost is billed to a customer, particularly when a transformer needs to be replaced, but the one being replaced can be returned to stock. Johnstone was questioned about the cost of an alternative that has the cost of upgrades being taken on as the system’s expense, presumably because increased power use ends up covering the cost. He will prepare a proposal with alternatives for commissioners to consider.

Later he noted a customer request for a power upgrade in the area of town with the Yellow Barn project might require accelerating planned upgrades in that part of town.

Planning to keep more transformers in stock to meet customer demand for upgrades as a way of improving customer relationships was suggested to Johnstone by commissioners.

Johnstone asked if commissioners were interested in applying for assistance with implementing advanced metering that might reduce the cost by as much as 50%, with a possible deadline coming in the near future. Commissioners asked that he present a plan, evaluating the benefits for system management over possible cost savings.

The financial report was reviewed with Johnstone reporting that he felt HED is in good financial shape.

In the meeting that lasted just over three hours, commissioners had executive sessions to discuss a legal matter, a separate matter involving litigation, a confidential employee matter and confidential customer matters.

The only decision made as a result was to offer a $1,000 bonus to employees who remain in their current position until December 31, as a way of thanking them for staying with HED during this transition.

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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