South city residents paying more for gas

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 9, 2001

[01/09/01] While most Vicksburg residents have been immune from skyrocketing natural gas prices, people in an area of south Vicksburg annexed in 1990 are taking a hit not shared by fellow municipal residents.

So far, the city-owned gas department has been absorbing the price jumps that have made keeping warm expensive for many private gas customers this winter. But since the city annexed an area along U.S. 61 South a decade ago, Union Gas Co., not the city, has continued to provide their gas.

That means that while residents in other parts of the city are paying about $7 per 1,000 cubic feet for gas, those who live south of Rainbow Casino along U.S. 61 South are paying about $11 for the same amount.

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R.D. Warren, who lives on Katherine Drive, said his bill from Union Gas went from $29 in November to $114 in December.

“That’s a pretty darn good jump,” Warren said. “It’s rough.”

Bill Lewis, a representative of Union Gas, which is based in Jackson, said wellhead prices have gone up about 400 percent in the past year, but the gas company isn’t making any money off the deal.

“We haven’t raised our distribution costs in 13 years,” Lewis said. “It’s just passing the cost of the gas on to customers.”

Billy Joe Quimby, head of the Vicksburg’s gas department, said Union Gas has the state-issued certificate licensing it to distribute natural gas in that area and, despite annexation, the city could not take over the service without action from the Legislature or the Public Service Commission.

“It’s not just something where we can say, OK, you’re annexed, now we’re going to take over your gas,” Quimby said.

Garbage collection, fire and police patrols and water and sewer services have been extended to most of the 20 square miles that became part of the city nearly 11 years ago. Quimby said that while the city was required to provide water and sewer service to anyone in the city limits, natural gas was not a mandatory service.

Vicksburg’s actual costs for the gas it distributes in the municipal system has nearly tripled from $1.98 in December 1999 to $5.86 in December 2000 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Mayor Robert Walker has said it would be “unconscionable” for the city not to lessen the brunt of the nationwide price increases for city customers.

City officials, up for re-election this year, have not publicly considered a new rate ordinance.

Instead, reserve funds are being depleted to pay suppliers the added costs.

Although some municipal customers’ bills have gone up, the reasons are the automatic repeal of a slight one-year price cut enacted in 1999 and higher use due to colder weather.

In Port Gibson, also served by Union Gas, hundreds of residents met in protest Saturday with the city’s mayor, Amelda Arnold, who pointed out that her own bill had risen from $56 to $477. Also at that meeting was Public Service Commission Nielsen Cochran, who said the regulatory panel has not approved an increase in the amount of profit the company is allowed to make and could therefore do nothing about the bills.