PEC assures citizens that Bertram office not closing

PEC Board Member Christi Clements addresses the audience during a town hall meeting held at Bertram City Hall on Sept. 3. (Lauren Jette Photo)

PEC Board Member Christi Clements addresses the audience during a town hall meeting held at Bertram City Hall on Sept. 3. (Lauren Jette Photo)

By Lauren Jette

BERTRAM — Pedernales Electric Cooperative CEO John Hewa assured concerned citizens packed into the Bertram City Council Chamber Sept. 3 that their local office would not be closing.

“We do plan to keep the Bertram office open,” Hewa told the audience at last week’s town hall meeting.

He explained that the PEC Board of Directors did approve the closure of certain offices, and the “compression” of others, such as the Bertram office, during their meeting in July.

“We’re not talking about sending people home,” but rather the best use of cooperative resources, Hewa said. “We’re talking about transitioning some incumbents into something different,” he said.

Hewa discussed the growth the co-op is seeing in different parts of the coverage area, including Liberty Hill and Cedar Park.

“Growth is a good thing,” Hewa said. “It’s also very challenging.”

A person from the audience asked Hewa what not closing the office meant. Hewa responded that membership services will be scaled down, district lines will be ignored in favor of whoever is closer to get calls completed, and PEC will be looking to consolidate storage yards.

“You’ll see us change,” Hewa added.

He said there are currently 31 employees in the Bertram office, and that PEC “plans to keep all of them first of all,” but cautioned that there will most likely be reassignments to other offices.

“I’m not telling you (the office) is going to remain open as is,” Hewa said. “We can’t have the cost we have today. It’s literally not sustainable.

“We’re just now working on the co-op’s long-term facilities plan,” Hewa said, when asked about a five-year plan for the office.

The Bertram office is located on State Highway 29, and includes a separate storage yard at a different location on Highway 29. Hewa said there is about $1.5 million in equipment at the storage yard and that PEC pays “about $16,000” in taxes to the City of Bertram.

PEC Board Member Christi Clements was at the meeting and acknowledged, “on the communication side, we could have done better.”

PEC President James Oakley explained that during the board meeting on July 21, the board was discussing the situation with the PEC office in Marble Falls when discussions touched on the Bertram office.

“I wasn’t expecting to take action that day,” Oakley told the audience. He said the resolution the board members voted on was “developed on the fly.”

Discussion became heated at this point in the meeting, with audience members visibly upset by Oakley’s comments.

“What we expect is, one, transparency, and two, not deciding things on the fly,” one audience member told PEC representatives.

The meeting was called to a close shortly after 8 p.m.