The Grays Harbor PUD Board of Commissioners has begun the process of hiring the next General Manager of the utility.  At Monday’s meeting, the commissioners introduced a resolution offering the position to Engineering Director Schuyler Burkhart.  The board plans to formally approve the resolution at their first meeting of January.  Burkhart will replace current manager Dave Ward, who will retire at the end of February.

“The Grays Harbor PUD is headed in the right direction, and we have found the person to continue that and help the utility fulfill its mission to our customers,” said PUD Board President Russ Skolrood.  “Schuyler’s leadership has helped put the PUD on a solid foundation.  We’re looking forward to working with him and the rest of the PUD team to maintain that foundation and build on it into the future.”

Burkhart joined the PUD as Engineering Director in March of 2014.  Prior to that he served as a senior supervisor of the Tacoma Power Transmission and Distribution section. Over a 26 year career, he has held multiple engineering and project management roles, and supervised engineering, administrative, meter, substation, relay and line service crews.  A graduate of Tacoma Community College and the University of Washington, Burkhart is a registered Professional Engineer in Washington state. Born and raised in Western Washington, he loves living in East County near Elma with his family.

“I’m  honored and excited to serve in this role and continue the valuable investment the utility has made in the professional growth of our staff, improving the safety and reliability of our utility systems, and most of all, fulfilling our mission of service to our customers,” said Burkhart.  “I’m very thankful for Dave Ward’s work that has positioned the PUD very positively as he moves into retirement, and for the board’s support and confidence in the PUD team and me as we move forward together.”

Abigail Kay, daughter of Grays Harbor PUD System Engineering Supervisor Dan Kay, has been awarded the Washington Public Utility District Association (WPUDA) Educational Scholarship.  The $1000 scholarship is awarded annually to the child or dependent of a WPUDA utility member who is a “well-rounded student that demonstrates scholastic ability, community involvement, and thoughtful consideration of the services provided by PUDs.” 

“I am so grateful to WPUDA for this great honor and to the Grays Harbor PUD for supporting my application,” said Kay.  “I’d also like to thank my parents and teachers who have been so supportive, especially during this uncertain time.”

Kay, a senior at WF West High School in Chehalis, hopes to begin her college education next fall at the University of California, Berkeley or Stanford, where she plans to study molecular genetics.  She has maintained a 4.0 grade point average, takes college level courses through the College in the Classroom program and is a member of the National Honor Society.  Outside the classroom, Kay has served as a page for the Washington State Senate, volunteers for the Chehalis Foundation and the United Way of Lewis County, and is an active dancer and instructor at the Southwest Washington Dance Center.

As part of her scholarship application, Kay wrote an essay on public utilities and their work on rural broadband expansion, which she called “an essential service that needs the support of public utility districts across Washington.”

An annual examination and report from the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) has given the Grays Harbor PUD high marks on Financial Statements and Accountability.  The report included no findings in the two areas and complimented the PUD for conducting the audit under rules set by the COVID response.

“I want to thank the Accounting Department and the PUD staff for their outstanding work.  This report tells our customers that they can trust their PUD and as a public entity, trust and faith from the customers is vital,” said Board of Commissioners President Russ Skolrood.

The report by the SAO covered the period of January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019.  In the area of accountability the report found that District operations complied in all material respects “with applicable state laws, regulations, and its (the PUD’s) own policies, and provided adequate controls over the safeguarding of public resources.”  The final report also found that the PUD’s financial statements “present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position (of the PUD).”

Normally carried out at the PUD offices, the 2020 audit was handled remotely in compliance with COVID-19 precautions.  SAO staff complimented the PUD for providing all needed documents electronically and setting up virtual meetings as needed and closed Wednesday’s exit conference by saying that while many audits have been carried out under COVID restrictions “none have gone more smoothly and cleanly than this one.”

The Grays Harbor PUD Board of Commissioners have approved a $127.6-million operating budget for 2021.  The spending plan will invest $10.5-million in the utility system and infrastructure in the coming year and will spend roughly $70.8-million on the energy PUD customers rely on to power their homes and businesses.

“This budget really comes down to service, affordability and reliability,” said PUD Commission President Russ Skolrood.  “The energy the utility purchases continues to be amongst the cleanest and most affordable in the country and the system that delivers that energy must do so while standing up to the rigors of the Grays Harbor environment.  The investments the board has approved for the coming year will ensure that our customers can rely on those services to continue.”

In addition to energy costs, which make up 71% of the operating budget, the utility capital budget will invest $4.22-million in the utility distribution system, $2.11-million in the PUD transmission system, $2-million on utility substations, and $2.16-million on the utility general plant.  Some of the standout projects include over $1-million spent on improvements to the Central Park, Scott Street and Montesano substations, concluding work on the Chehalis River Crossing Towers, extending the utility fiber system and maintaining and replacing the equipment that helps the PUD maintain system safety, reliability and affordability.

“Working together, the PUD Operations, Engineering and Telecommunications departments have identified the areas in which the utility needs to focus its attention and invest its resources,” said General Manager Dave Ward.

The 2021 budget will include a proposed 2% rate adjustment which will not be implemented until May.  By waiting until the spring, the PUD staff have the time to assess utility finances and determine if the full adjustment is necessary.

“In 2020, the PUD chose not to go forward with our rate adjustment because of the impacts of COVID-19,” said Skolrood.  “By waiting until after the winter, we have a better idea of where we will be financially and what we need to do to responsibly manage the 2021 budget.”

The coming year will also begin with the PUD continuing the measures taken to protect staff and customers from COVID-19 while continuing to provide the critical services its customers rely on.  This will include the closure of the customer service lobby, remote working and meetings where and when possible, and the isolation of utility operations and telecommunications crews.

“The actions taken by the PUD have worked well,” said Ward.  “Energy and telecom services are always critical to the residential and commercial communities of Grays Harbor, but during the COVID response, they have become even more so.  Our ability to continue to provide those services in the midst of a pandemic response can give customers a sense of security and normalcy in a time when both are needed more than ever.”

Following an agreement with Grays Harbor County, the Grays Harbor PUD will begin using CARES Act dollars to aid customers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agreement, approved by the Board of County Commissioners and the Board of PUD Commissioners this week, will allow the PUD to apply $500,000 in federal aid to customer accounts.  Customers who apply can receive financial assistance which will be applied to their account balances.  To apply, customers must fill out the proper application which lists COVID related hardships that have impacted their household.  Those hardships include: increased household expenses related to COVID-19, loss of income related to COVID-19 and other financial hardships directly related to COVID-19. 

Due to federal guidelines, the CARES Act funding can only be used until the end of November, leaving customers just over one month to fill out their applications which will be accepted until Nov. 25th.  Application forms are available online and at the PUD drive-up window.  For more information, customers may contact the PUD Customer Service Office at 360-532-4220.