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June 20, 1996

In 1938, the local Chamber of Commerce concocted a novel idea to rid Perry lawns of those pesky dandelions. A summertime contest was announced to encourage boys and girls to pick as many of the weeds as they could, tie them in neat bundles of 25 each and bring them to a checking station at the rear of the Masonic building on the west side of the square. Awards of $5, $3, $2 and $1 were offered for the largest numbers turned in, but each youngster who presented at least 75 plants was guaranteed a free ticket to one of the Perry movie theaters.

It was a great idea. Too successful, though. Perry had its usual bumper crop of dandelions that spring and the C-C did not count on the tremendous response they received from local boys and girls. The number brought in overwhelmed the Chamber's slim financial resources, so the contest was hastily and prematurely terminated. Marsh Woodruff, the C-C manager, quickly realized it didn't take long to gather up 75 dandelions when the supply was as plentiful as it was that year.

The Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority, which serves this city, has just issued its annual financial report and I have been flipping through its pages in search of interesting nuggets to share with you. As usual, the report is well written, brightly illustrated and brimful of charts and graphs to help explain the text. It's a good production and you probably can find a copy to peruse at our City Hall.

In a summation on "Change and Competition" as part of the letter from the chairman of the board/general manager, this comment is included: "The electric industry in the United States is in the middle of an unprecedented industry restructuring. Whether the market moves toward total deregulation or some hybrid form of competition is not yet clear. What is clear, however, is that change is not coming, it is already here."

Which brings to mind an interesting remark made to me by a utility company official recently. We were discussing the humorous aspects of Mayor Fred Kretsch's 1938 lawsuit against the Apache Gas Co., when the city of Perry was granted a token reduction in gas prices averaging about 21 cents per month for local consumers. The executive, who views from a perspective of upper management at the state level in a major utility, said he foresees a day in the near future when gas service to local communities will be vastly different. He believes it will evolve into something like the long-distance telephone competition of today, in which one household can select a long-distance company while neighbors choose an altogether different service provider.

He believes there will be districts, or neighborhoods, within each municipality given the choice of several gas companies, and a transmission service will bring the fuel to them as they do now. He didn't say it would be better than the present method of long-term franchises; he said it would be different. Perhaps the same could be said about our current telephone service.

But, back to the OMPA report. Last year, the authority celebrated its 10th anniversary as a wholesale power supplier to Oklahoma municipalities. The city of Winfield, Kansas, signed as a new member of OMPA last December, marking the first sale to an out-of-state municipality. In Fairview, funds generated from extension of a one percent sales tax in January 1994, plus utility revenues, made possible the construction of a fine new City Hall complex. Most municipalities transfer some funds from the electric utility to the general fund, which are used to operate the local municipality. A photo of the Fairview City Hall shows it to be an attractive brick building housing many units of their local government. Total cost of the complex was $1,390,000.

Things have indeed changed in the electric industry, not just in Oklahoma but throughout the United States. What will the next decade bring to Perry?