MOORHEAD — Bill Schwandt had some parting advice during his last presentation to the Moorhead Public Service Commission Tuesday night, Jan. 21.
To keep and attract large commercial power customers, Schwandt said, reduce dollar transfers to city coffers.
Schwandt, who has been the MPS general manager for about the past three decades, submitted his two-week notice immediately following the Jan. 13 meeting of the Moorhead City Council.
The triggering event was a council decision to fill a voting position on the MPS board with a city council member, which is believed to be the first time in the city-owned utility's 100-plus-year history that a council member was appointed to a voting seat on the commission.
City council members previously said Heidi Durand was appointed to the board to increase understanding and improve relations between the two entities.
Schwandt has said he believes MPS was intended to operate largely as an independent utility, unfettered by the winds of politics, and he affirmed that position Tuesday night during farewell remarks.
His focus was the annual transfer of MPS revenue to the city of Moorhead, an amount he said has grown over time to make MPS rates less competitive when it comes to vying for large commercial customers.
According to Schwandt's reading of the city charter, the city council's powers regarding the utility are limited to appointing citizens to the MPS board and transferring up to 25% of MPS electric division gross revenues and up to 10% of water division gross revenues to city coffers each year.
Schwandt said the transfer from the electric division is about $9 million, or 21% of gross revenues, while the transfer from the water division is about $1 million, or 8% of gross revenues.
He told MPS commissioners Tuesday the cap on electric division transfers should be no higher than 10%.
According to Schwandt, reducing how much MPS transfers to the city each year would likely necessitate raising property taxes, but he said if the transfer percentages don't begin to shrink, MPS electric rates will one day be higher than competitors like Xcel Energy.
"We used to say our rates were low, now they're competitive," Schwandt said. He went on to devote a good share of his final remarks to thanking MPS commissioners, past and present, as well as MPS employees, whom he called "the best bunch of employees ever."
Schwandt said he isn't happy about leaving, and he told commissioners if any major issues come up while they are trying to fill his position they can give him a call.
As for what he plans to do next, Schwandt said: "I'm fine. I'll do fine."
Commissioners voted Tuesday to form a committee that will start the process of filling the vacancy that will be created when Schwandt officially leaves his position Jan. 27.