Engineers at GRDA moving to east Tulsa
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Thursday, May 10, 2012
5/10/12 at 8:14 AM
VINITA - Grand River Dam Authority directors moved forward Wednesday with plans to shift some of the state-owned utility's operations to Tulsa.
By a 4-2 vote, the board approved the purchase of the 42,000-square-foot 16 Centre Plaza building in east Tulsa. GRDA officials said the Engineering Division, some maintenance crews and possibly some information technology positions will be transferred to the facility, which will also house an emergency control center.
CEO Dan Sullivan said the move should have a minimal impact on GRDA headquarters in Vinita.
Details of the transaction were not disclosed, except that the GRDA's offer for the building at 9933 E. 16th St. was "below the asking price."
The building formerly housed the Trase Miller call center.
Most of the jobs moved to Tulsa will come from the engineering and transmission center north of Pryor, GRDA officials said.
A replacement for that facility was included in the GRDA's 2008 and 2010 bond issues.
Eight northeast Oklahoma legislators and Pryor Mayor Jimmy Tramel objected to the move, with Tramel appealing to the board in person Wednesday.
Sullivan said the deal is a good one financially and will help the agency recruit and retain employees.
"We have five openings for engineers, and four of them have been posted since last June," he said. "We can't fill them."
Sullivan said the GRDA, which manages lakes and provides water and electricity in parts of northeastern Oklahoma, generally cannot pay as much for engineers and other high-demand professions or offer as much as other employers in the way of fringe benefits.
"We can't even pay someone's expenses to come for an interview," he said.
Not everybody was buying the argument.
"The reasoning and justification for GRDA's decision to take jobs away from rural Oklahomans is an offensive assault not only on northeast Oklahoma but rural areas across the state," said Rep. Ben Sherrer, D-Chouteau, whose district includes Pryor.
Just because Sullivan "can articulate a reason for the decision does not make it the right thing to do," he said.
"This action is a 'shot across the bow' of GRDA's longtime rural constituency and base of support. It's a punch in the gut, as far as I'm concerned."
Sherrer was one of eight legislators to sign a letter issued by Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, on Tuesday.
"They've claimed they need an office in Tulsa to be able to recruit engineers and other positions, but we're just not buying it," Burrage said.
"We've seen recent growth at the MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor and industries like Google who have announced major investments here. To expand their operations outside of the area GRDA serves is a slap in the face to all of us in northeastern Oklahoma."
Sullivan, a former Republican legislator, responded by saying all of the GRDA's "significant investments" are in Mayes County, including the coal-fired plant south of Pryor, the county seat.
He said a new transmission center is still planned for Pryor, and he noted that more than $500 million is likely to be spent at the coal-fired plant over the next four years.
"We are not abandoning Pryor," he said.
Finances: Also at Wednesday's monthly board meeting, the GRDA released its annual financial report for 2011. It showed net operating income of $89.1 million, down $5.1 million from 2010, with total net assets of $474.3 million, a $57.6 million increase from a year ago.
Net operating income is essentially the same as profit for a private or investor-owned business.
Officials said the drop in net operating income was primarily a result of a reduction in base rates. Electric sales were essentially flat, with a 4 percent increase in revenue attributed mostly to an increase in fuel prices passed along to customers.
Water rates: Also, the board voted to drop raw water rates for eight rural water districts in Cherokee and Wagoner counties and for the Hulbert and Peggs municipal water systems.
The districts complained bitterly several years ago when the GRDA raised the rates from a few cents per thousand gallons to 10 cents. Wednesday's decision drops the rate back to 3 cents.
Promotions: Two promotions were announced at the meeting: Darrell Townsend from ecosystems management director to assistant general manager of ecosystems/lake management and Allison Goodpaster-Carter from human resources director to assistant general manager of human resources.
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365
GRDA CEO Dan Sullivan: "We have five openings for engineers, and four of them have been posted since last June. We can't fill them."