Proposed East Valley utility sale worries staff - East Valley Tribune: News

Proposed East Valley utility sale worries staff

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Posted: Tuesday, February 27, 2007 4:40 am | Updated: 7:04 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Thomas Kaminski moved from Washington to Mesa in September to take a job with the city’s electric utility.

The journeyman lineman heard three weeks later that the city was thinking of selling its electric utilities.

Worried about his job security, Kaminksi switched employers again to go work for The Salt River Project utility. And he’s not the only one.

The department has lost three linemen in recent months, two of whom specifically cited the prospect of a utilities sale as a reason for leaving the city.

“Everybody’s down about it and concerned about it,” Kaminski said of the department’s morale.

“I’m the third one now that has left, and there are guys that basically can’t leave that have to stick it out.”

Last year, Mesa leaders asked SRP to explore buying the city-owned electric utility or joining a partnership to run it. Mesa has also been in talks with Southwest Gas over the prospect of selling its gas utilities. Currently, Mesa provides natural gas to about 50,000 homes and businesses.

Since then, SRP administrators have toured the Mesa facility on several occasions.

Jeff Lane, an SRP spokesman, said the utility company recently completed a study to determine if it would be interested in Mesa’s 5.5 square-mile electric system. He would not disclose the study’s findings.

Right now, the city’s electric utility generates roughly $35 million in revenue a year, said David Plumb, the city’s utilities director.

Of that amount, the city routes $5 million to $6 million a year to its operating budget to pay for things such as public safety and park maintenance.

Although the prospect of selling part or all of the electric utility is still highly speculative, Plumb said he has noticed the discussion is hurting morale.

Normally, the department requires 16 fulltime positions. Right now, Plumb said he’s down to four foremen, two linemen and one apprentice.

He said the city expected a response from SRP back in December, and the fact that talks have continued to drag on has made some employees uncomfortable. He added that selling the utilities could wind up costing the city more in the long run.

“We make more operating the system than we could make if we sold it and invested the money,” Plumb said.

Brady wouldn’t confirm if linemen are leaving because they fear losing their jobs, but he feels it’s way too early for people to speculate.

“No one has ever said anyone would lose a job regardless of what we would do,” Brady said.

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