Mayor: Wrap up, lower thermostats|[1/19/06]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 19, 2006

With Vicksburg residents struggling with high rates for natural gas, Mayor Laurence Leyens said again Wednesday citizens can do their part to keep costs in check.

Calling it the top issue in the community, Leyens addressed the Vicksburg Lions Club of the state of affairs in the city – chiefly gas rates.

&#8220Managing your thermostat is really the right answer when you get down to it,” he said, insisting that the city’s rates for its natural gas service, raised four times since August, are still up to 25 percent less than larger cities, including Jackson and Clinton.

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Smaller cities have experienced higher rates than Vicksburg, Leyens said, citing Port Gibson as an example.

&#8220They are buying gas by the day and are paying four times more than what we are paying today,” Leyens said.

Last week, Leyens ordered all thermostats in city buildings to be set at 65 degrees. He demurred on any such suggestion for residents, however.

The second-term independent repeated a market-based refrain he has stuck to since the fourth rate hike earlier this month. In years past, he said, the gas market was stable and predictable. It was inexpensive in the spring and summer, allowing the city to purchase gas at the end of October when prices decreased.

&#8220We were watching that market as early as September during the hurricanes. That dip never came,” Leyens said.

Leyens said a $50,000 meter is in the works to expand the city’s sources for purchasing natural gas from three to six.

Vicksburg is one of a small number of municipalities in the state that still operates utilities. Most cities have sold out to private companies.

Leyens told those gathered that if Vicksburg followed suit, &#8220rates would double overnight,” but admitted most Vicksburg residents’ gas bills have doubled in the past year.

&#8220I just ask people to think about conservation, insulation, buying good storm windows. That’s all I can do.”

Social services that typically assist residents are &#8220out of money,” Leyens said, referring to programs like Warren Washington Issaquena Sharkey Community Action Agency (WWISCAA) and the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Separately, state Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, has said many residents have contacted him to see what kind of assistance he can provide at the state level.

Flaggs said Wednesday that &#8220unfortunately, it is a local issue. But if the mayor and aldermen seek my assistance, I am more than willing.”

Flaggs said at least 10 calls per day have come into his office about utility rates. &#8220I’d be doing the same thing if I were in their position,” Flaggs said.