Natural gas rates raised; city feels gasoline crunch|[04/26/08]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 26, 2008

Fuel costs are plaguing Vicksburg, causing officials to “respond accordingly,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens Friday in a meeting where officials approved in a two-to-one vote a second natural gas increase for customers in as many months and moved more money into city departmental accounts to pay for gasoline.

Although natural gas is used primarily for home heating by residential customers – and demand is down for the summer – the rate was increased to $5.94 a unit, up from the $4.35 a unit rate approved in March. The fuel cost surcharges were locked into bills the city’s 10,000 metered customers pay monthly.

While Leyens and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman voted to increase the rate, North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield dissented without explanation, as he has almost uniformly done since taking office almost three years ago.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“I’m not going to vote to raise natural gas rates when I left my air conditioning running at home,” was all he said on the topic.

Leyens responded by explaining that without raising rates the city will “go bankrupt” because the city-owned gas utility can’t absorb increases charged by its suppliers.

Vicksburg is one of a few communities in Mississippi that has not sold its municipal utilities to private interests. Leyens said keeping rates high enough to pay for fuel and operating overhead with no profit margin gives customers a break. Strategic Planner Paul Rogers, who purchases fuel for the city to resell to customers, has said this year’s surge is due to a longer and colder winter in the Northeast.

A continual rise in gasoline costs for city vehicles brings a whole different problem. Prices at the pumps Friday were $3.58 per gallon, reflecting steady increases in prices and a suspected top of $4 this summer. Vicksburg buys in bulk and does not pay state or federal taxes of 37.2 cents per gallon on gasoline, but wholesale prices are rising faster than departmental budgets, approved in September, anticipated.

The board voted to take $199,700 from its administrative services budget category in addition to about $46,000 from five other department categories to increase fuel allowances for 14 departments.

Leyens said that of the city’s total 35-mill tax rate, one mill or about 3 percent of the city’s entire budget is now going to gasoline.

“It’s just killing us. It’s eating up the budget,” he said. “We’re trying not to (increase taxes). We have to tighten our belts and change the way we do business.”

Leyens did praise the board’s move to purchase several new more fuel-efficient work vehicles.

The departments requiring budget increases and the amounts were $3,000 for traffic, $20,000 for ambulance, $15,000 for fire, $2,200 for inspections, $48,000 for streets, $19,000 for community service, $26,000 for right of way, $2,200 for cemetery, $3,300 for landscaping, $3,200 for animal control, $16,000 for water mains, $6,400 for gas, $32,000 for sewer mains and $3,400 for vehicle maintenance.

On the agendaOn Friday, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen:Approved meeting minutes for March 25.Tabled a request for advertisement from Vicksburg Packers Youth Football and Cheer.Awarded a sealed bid in the amount of $44,239 for a prisoner transport van to Crossroads Ford in Memphis and asphalt to APAC Mississippi.Approved a change order on the 2007 Street Paving Program Phase I, Contract A, to add paving and a shoulder on Cain Ridge Road and a shoulder along Redbone Road for an additional $16,000.Authorized the mayor to execute an amendment to the planning funding agreement with Nextel.Authorized the mayor to execute a change order with Motorola for a rebanding study.Adopted a resolution to declare two properties, one at 2428 Oak St., and another at 1516 Military Ave., surplus and authorized the mayor to execute a quitclaim deed to a potential housing developer.Discussed seven dilapidated buildings and overgrown lot codes that were not in compliance and authorized Victor Gray-Lewis, director of buildings and inspections, to cut, clean and demolish them.Authorized the mayor to execute a letter for contract time extension request for the Vicksburg Riverfront Park Project.Approved Main Street’s May 2008 advertising.Approved privilege license, marshall’s report, tax collection, city sexton and delinquent tax collection.Approved the claims docket.In an executive session, the board discussed a pay adjustment in the police department; a hire in parks and recreation; a transfer from sewer; two terminations in the right of way department; and two personnel matters, one in purchasing and another in legal.The board will meet again at 10 a.m. May 5.