TPR's recommendations in Chapter 4 on consumer affairs calls for improvements in the Public Utility Commission's (PUC) approach to consumer affairs and public information, including expanding PUC's consumer education role and reorganizing the agency's consumer activities along functional lines. Other proposals would strengthen and simplify PUC's consumer complaint process and suggest ways to use the agency's computer capabilities more effectively. These recommendations to strengthen consumer affairs, taken together, would require total additional funding of $958,000 over the 1998-1999 biennium. However, the total fiscal impact of all the recommendations in this report result in a nominal net savings of $21,300 over the biennium.
Additional staffing for an expanded education role and use of other communications tools such as producing public service announcements (PSAs) would entail additional costs. While exact staffing requirements would depend upon the consumer education plan to be developed by PUC, TPR's study of other utility agencies and other Texas regulatory agencies indicates PUC would need at least three full-time staff members dedicated to consumer education to move closer to the average of other state public utility commissions surveyed. Assuming new employees are paid $34,000 per position, these employees would require additional annual funding of about $127,500 (including benefits).
Again, PUC's staffing requirements for the proposed consumer inquiry hotline would depend upon its consumer education plan. Based on other agencies' staffing patterns and the increased number of consumer inquiries likely to follow regulatory changes, it seems reasonable to assume that at least four additional staff members would be required. Assuming a salary of $22,000, total annual costs for these employees, including benefits, would be about $110,000.
Given PUC's urgent need to communicate consumer information, the agency should budget to prepare at least four PSAs per year (perhaps two for electric and two for telecommunications), and probably should produce a similar number of PSAs in future years, at an average cost of $6,000 each.
Additional staff would be required to improve consumer complaint resolution. TPR found that other state utility agencies average about 482,000 customers per employee charged with resolving consumer complaints. A similar ratio at PUC would require nine additional positions. However, TPR suggests a more conservative approach, suggesting that six positions be filled initially. Assuming average salaries similar to Texas Department of Insurance's (TDI) of $29,000, PUC's total annual expenditure for these positions, including benefits, would be about $217,500. Shifting employee workloads due to productivity savings identified in Proposal 1 could fill the equivalent of four of these positions, leaving a cost of $72,500. The estimate shown below assumes that PUC chooses to add complaint resolution responsibilities to those employees who would have reduced responsibilities due to Proposal 1.
Savings would result from implementing TPR's recommendations to increase come from efficiencies in the hearings process by using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and proposed agency action (PAA). These efficiencies would result in fewer cases being referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) and therefore reduced contract costs with SOAH. Savings due to the use of ADR would total $152,000 annually. One-time ADR training costs in fiscal 1998 would total $2,700. Savings due to use of the PAA process would be an additional $194,500.
Fiscal Impact 1998-2002
Savings to Cost to Net Savings to Fiscal the General the General the General Change Year Revenue Fund Revenue Fund Revenue Fund in FTEs 1998 $346,500 $336,700 $9,800 +9
1999 346,500 334,000 12,500 +9
2000 346,500 334,000 12,500 +9
2001 346,500 334,000 12,500 +9
2002 346,500 334,000 12,500 +9
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