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News & Press: Member Services

Back to the basics: Education for governing bodies

Wednesday, September 23, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: mpuaonline
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From the August 2020 edition of 
Alliance Advantage magazine

Back to the basics: Education for governing bodies
- Connie Ford, MPUA Deputy Vice President of Member Services

Working in your community every day to keep the essential services flowing is key but when trouble strikes, the foundation you put in place with your governing body will serve you well. Boards and city councils have much to contend with. When you add overseeing a non-traditional business, like utilities, it can get complicated quickly.

The best tools you can give your governing body are information and education. How do you break through the clutter of these people’s lives, so they have time to understand more about utilities? Decide the best way to convey utility information into smaller bites. For example, alternate between utility system presentations and tours throughout the year with a set annual schedule. Keep the information at a more pedestrian level than you would when talking to your peers in the industry. You can review your utility overview presentations with newer city staff members to ensure that the words you use to describe utility operations are easily digestible.

Schedule tours of worksites and job shadowing
Have several employees conduct the tour so they can share personal experiences about their jobs. This will reinforce how committed to reliable utility service your employees are and will help attendees walk in the shoes of a utility worker. Include the billing department with these tours since customers have the most direct interactions with these staff members and their jobs can be trying at times.

Utility overview presentations
Provide a basic utility overview for each utility and highlight the areas where customers have the most concern. Overviews can be done throughout the year for each utility, with new candidates, and after the new board and council members come on board.

  • Electric: Explain the instantaneous nature of an electric supply which sets it apart from a traditional business. Review basic regulations that keep the grid reliable. Be ready to discuss who supplies your electricity and if renewable resources are in your portfolio. Review how power is delivered to your system, including transmission, substations, and the distribution system.
  • Natural Gas: Cover how it is transported to your city. Mention any supply, price, or pipeline concerns. How do regulations play into how you provide service? What are the challenges of your distribution system? How do your employees get their training and why is it mportant?
  • Water: Explain where your water comes from, the quality, and how it is treated. Are there existing or new regulations that could have a significant impact on the utility? Discuss why water pressure is important, especially for firefighting. What is the state of your distribution system? Create an education piece on the difference between boil orders and advisories and how you share the information with customers.
  • Wastewater: What regulations are driving your capital improvement plan? Provide an overview of how the collections system works and the areas that need improvement. Does an industry in town have special discharge or pre-treatment permits? Explain the challenges with stormwater impacting your collections and treatment systems.

Send updates on current utility issues
When it comes to a utility service item that could become a hot button issue, like service interruptions, provide regular updates to your governing bodies. People in your community will be talking to them so ensure they have the information needed to be your advocate. Provide talking points that include a simple overview of the problem, what you are doing to fix the problem, and be realistic about when the problem will be resolved. Including messaging about how you can avoid this problem in the future shows that you are committed to excellent customer service but also sets the stage for future budget requests.

Make your budgets easier to understand
During the annual budget process ensure that the information provided is presented in different ways to your board/council. Utility budgets can appear to be large in comparison to other city departments so a pie chart that shows categories of expenses can easily show where the revenue is going. Include a rate comparison chart for other utilities in the area for each utility. Use examples of what the cost would be to replace a substation transformer or a pump at a plant when discussing a utility’s cash reserve policy, so the scale of emergency expenses is clear. Highlight how the utilities contribute to the city’s general fund, especially for unbilled services and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). Use analogies to everyday life when possible for greater clarity. Remember that all people learn and retain information differently so use a variety of written, visual, and auditory methods.

Need help with telling your story to your board or city council? The MPUA team is here to help, so please reach out to us.



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