February 25th, 2024

Utility watchdog group seeks more members at town hall

By Brendan Miller on January 31, 2024.

Gord Cowan, board member with the newly formed 'Medicine Hat Utility Ratepayers Association,' speaks at a town hall last night at Higdon Hall to engage with current members and to encourage others to join.--NEWS PHOTO BRENDAN MILLER

bmiller@medicinehatnews.com

A group of citizens with concerns over the city’s power rates is looking for members to join the association they claim will hold the city financially accountable for increased utility bills.

The ‘Medicine Hat Utility Ratepayers Association’ met last night at Higdon Hall to engage with current members and welcome others to join.

Board members told the News they plan to further pressure City Hall for lower utility rates and tax reductions.

“We’re not a confrontational association, we’re not looking to chastise City Hall or any of those things. We’re here to work with them and just provide feedback from the ratepayers,” says Gord Cowan, board member.

The five-member board is looking to double its executive membership to 10, Cowan told the News, as he says a 10-member board would help the association expand its reach into the community.

More importantly, Cowan says, the association is seeking more feedback from residents struggling with increased cost of living and higher taxes.

“We need somebody, an association like this, to ask the hard questions and demand the answers and do whatever’s necessary to help the ratepayers and Medicine Hat,” explains Cowan.

The association was founded by local business owner Sou Boss at the beginning of 2023 and its members helped stage a protest meeting over high power prices in August.

She says the group is concerned that the ‘Medicine Hat Advantage’ is not being met and says citizens are overburdened by taxes and utility costs.

“We want to address the affordability issue in our community.”

Boss would like to see the city reduce its overall spending and provide taxpayers some relief.

“We want people to be aware, we want them to be engaged that this is happening in our city. The reason these things happen, I think, is that everyone becomes complacent until it actually hits them really hard, and that’s in their pocketbook.” says Boss.

The group says at this point they are not selling memberships, however they are accepting donations to help fund future gatherings as well as funding to gather research that Cowan says will help them hold city council accountable.

“We don’t want to fight them or anything like that. We’ll move along as much as we have to and put as much pressure on as we have to in order to get the answers we need,” says Cowan.

“How are they going to be able to make the citizens’ lives more livable? Everyone’s struggling. The inflation, everything, there’s no one that is not untouched,” adds Boss.

City council discussed relief options and the potential for skyrocketing power bills in January and July.

That hurried along a new power rate and a request for a full business practice review of the city’s electrical utility business that is due in 2024.

While the power market is expected to settle down this year, city budgeters are still predicting large profits in the range of $80 million.

— with files from Collin Gallant

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