Sidney City Council approves budget, addresses electric underground cost-share

SIDNEY, NE — It was a busy night in the Sidney City Council Chambers Tuesday evening.

The council held multiple public hearings and heard from its residents on a variety of topics. One of those was the ongoing under grounding of electric lines throughout the city.

Sidney resident Jerry Haupt expressed displeasure with the way the project is being funded — a cost share between impacted homeowners and the city.

Haupt said he believed he shouldn’t have to pay for an upgrade he didn’t ask for.

'There's no problems to that line," Haupt said. "Yeah that thing's old, but it can last another 100 years. Who knows? I don't know that. You don't know that. So why are we paying extra to go and put new [lines] in, which we didn't even ask for, when the city decided to bury the lines in the alleys."

City officials say under grounding has multiple benefits including lines being less susceptible to power outages and extreme weather.

Electric Superintendent Mike Palmer says the homeowner does own underground lines near their house.

"The minute it leaves a centralized transformer, secondary pedestal, whatever it may be, it becomes the homeowner's line," Palmer said. "The only thing the city actually owns is the meter."

The current way the project is funded has the city and homeowner split the cost of under-grounding the wires. The city's share of the cost is to not exceed $600 per homeowner. This decision on how to pay for the project was made back in 2008 by a previous council. According to city documents, that group discussed the issue of under-grounding wires for about a year before making their final decision on funding. 

Citing the previous council's time put in to the decision, progress already made on the project and how many residents have already paid their cost share, the current council said they feel bound by the previous group's decision. 

City manager David Scott said the city is legally required to treat all impacted residents the same. That means if they altered the deal for one person, they'd have to change the way the entire project is funded. For example, if they agreed to pay for the conversion at Haupt's house entirely, the city would have to do that for everyone. That would lead to additional costs for the city and require them to refund everyone who has previously paid for this project. 

In the end, Haupt thanked the council for their time and said he was just looking for more information on the decision. 

"Don't disconnect me," Haupt said jokingly while wrapping up. 

The council also approved its budget for the upcoming fiscal year with no objections from the public. 

The city's mill levy is set at .586371 which is unchanged from the past two years.