Natural gas costs up again, 5th time in months|[06/26/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 26, 2008

Vicksburg officials voted Wednesday for this year’s fifth increase on the cost customers pay for natural gas.

“The city is still losing money on water and gas services. I think that’s what’s driving the national recession,” Mayor Laurence Leyens said. “I don’t expect it to change until the national election.”

Strategic Planner Paul Rogers told the Board of Mayor and Aldermen that the actual cost the city paid the supplier for natural gas has risen to $13.01 for July, which compares with $6.81 the city was paying a year ago. Those figures do not include the additional 68 cents per million cubic feet charged to transport it and store it, said purchasing director Tim Smith.

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With the newest increase, the gas price adjustment will rise $1.45 – from $6.81 per thousand cubic feet charged this month to $8.26 in July.

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, who previously has voted against gas cost increases saying the city should find the money elsewhere, was not at Wednesday’s meeting.

Leyens has continually defended the city’s role in adjusting the price people pay for natural gas and credits Vicksburg as one of few cities in the state to “still be in the gas business,” as opposed to those who contract for gas services. Prices, however, have followed suit to the skyrocketing prices at gasoline pumps, which requires city officials to make increases along the way. The increases do not include any profit that would be tacked on by an outside company.

“We’re still getting a good deal even though it doesn’t feel like it,” Leyens said.

Because natural gas is typically used for heating, the effects the increase will have on bills will not be as detrimental as it could be to people during winter months. Still, July bills will average $25.75 for a family using 1,100 cubic feet, a typical summer usage. Under the old rate, customers using the same amount would pay $24.16. The amount a customer is billed includes the city’s base rate of $12.10 per thousand cubic feet each month.

Leyens, who is currently pushing a citywide green initiative and encouraging more efficient energy usage, has said making smart decisions will help curb costs.

“I want to encourage the community – every time you flip a switch, you are making a purchase decision,” he said. “We have to change our lifestyle significantly.”

Police, firemen to see 3 percent more pay

Vicksburg’s 65 police officers and 120 firefighters will receive 3 percent raises, a cost-of-living increase that will be reflected on their next pay checks, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Wednesday.

Mayor Laurence Leyens said the decision to increase the pay in the two departments, the city’s two largest budgets, was an important step in retention and acknowledging the hard work and service of the employees.

“This will make a difference in their quality of life,” he said.

In the police department, the increase during a 12-month period will total $43,793.40, taking the department’s salaries from $1,459,780 to $1,503,573, said human resources director Lamar Horton. For the fire department, pay raises will equal $133,062, which will increase salaries from $4,433,740 to $4,566,752.

Despite growing concerns about the national economy, Leyens said the pay increases are deserved. In the past, raises for the two departments have been based mostly on merit, a system that rewards the work of each employee.

“This is about the worst timing possible, but we want our police and firemen to understand – this is a solid organization and we want them to stay whole,” he said.

Vicksburg Fire Department Chief Keith Rogers said he appreciated the incentive.

“Even though the economy is bad, it’s a pleasure to know we live in a town that’s prospering,” he said. “We sure thank you for it.”

Discussing the hardships related to the role of police and fire officials, Vicksburg police Chief Tommy Moffett indicated having the city acknowledge efforts makes for a better force.

“The end result is we have a better-educated, more-energetic police department,” he said. “We have a much better product than we did previously and we can continue moving forward.”

Dirt work to begin at future sports site

Vicksburg officials are moving forward with plans to have a softball complex ready for play by next season. Grubbing, or moving dirt, on the land the city purchased in 2003 for $325,000 is supposed to begin next week, Mayor Laurence Leyens said at Wednesday’s board meeting after a formal vote was made to conduct the work.

Leyens indicated the city will move forward with the help of Aquila, the local group that came on the scene last summer with announced intentions of building a multimillion-dollar sports complex, to have fields and other amenities in time for the first swing of a bat.

After the April announcement that Aquila would no longer try to build at Halls Ferry Park, once a landfill, the group has made no formal announcement about its revised plans. Leyens, however, has said the group will team with the city and use a portion of the 200 acres off Fisher Ferry Road.

While Aquila’s plans have moved forward, the city, too, kept its original vision to house a recreational facility on its land. In September, Vicksburg was issued about $4 million of a $16.9 million bond for the clear purpose of developing the first phase of the complex at the Fisher Ferry site. In May, the city paid St. Michael Catholic Church $7,500 for four acres to help with access to the acreage the city already owns.

The city, meanwhile, has asked for repayment from Aquila of $250,000 for a feasibility study. Leyens has said he expects the group to pay back the money, but South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman has said he believes the group has fulfilled its obligation for the money.

N. Washington paving under way in Kings area

Work to improve paving along North Washington Street has begun, marking the end of a long wait for residents of Kings, said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Wednesday to execute a supplemental agreement for the street improvement project, which is being performed by APAC-Mississippi Engineering.

In March, city officials accepted the company’s bid for $1,351,428.40 to have the work, which will improve traffic flow along North Washington Street from the Port of Vicksburg to U.S. 61 North, completed. The project, which comes about six years after officials promised improvements to the traffic-laden route, will be paid for by the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

New airport terminal, fire station on the way

The search is on for an architect to provide initial drawings for the long-awaited fire station and terminal at Vicksburg Municipal Airport off U.S. 61 South. Vicksburg officials voted Wednesday to request proposals that would begin the process of building the addition at the city-run airport.

The city was notified in April that the airport would receive $1.2 million in grant funds, part of Mississippi’s $5.48 billion Katrina recovery package of community development block grants through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and administered on the state level by the Mississippi Development Authority’s Disaster Recovery Division. The funds will help pay to build a new Vicksburg Fire Department station and terminal, which likely will be constructed as one facility. The building would allow more room for increased fire department staff and provide a place to house an ambulance.

After Vicksburg’s annexation in 1990, which added homes, businesses and factories to the area, the city placed a 24-hour fire crew in an existing building at the airport. The building, about 100 yards from the terminal, has been improved over the years, but lacks space to house an ambulance. A new building would allow more space for fire personnel, as well as additional offices for airport employees, a lounge for transient pilots and other amenities.

Combining the terminal and station would lower utility costs and alleviate flooding problems.

No bidders received on low-fuel mini trucks

Vicksburg officials will have to re-advertise for bids on the energy efficient mini trucks they had hoped could help alleviate the burden of surging gasoline costs.

As part of Mayor Laurence Leyens’ forthcoming green initiative, city purchasing director Tim Smith has for months been researching the vehicles, touted for getting 40 to 60 miles to the gallon. Leyens has said he would like to use the mini trucks in departments, such as landscaping and cemetery, to become more energy-efficient.

Smith told the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Wednesday that, although six packages were collected by potential bidders, no bids were ever received.

The city was seeking two two-door and two four-door trucks. Although most of the vehicles are used and imported from overseas, Smith said he had one potential bidder contact him about new trucks built in the United States. The city had hoped to pay $5,000 for each two-door vehicle and $9,000 for each four-door, Smith said.

In addition to the mini trucks, the board is looking to Smith to find ways the city can be more energy-efficient, such as eventually converting all city buildings to solar power and changing over to light bulbs that burn longer.

On the agendaIn a Wednesday meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen, the board:Approved the board meeting minutes for May 9 and May 19.Presented certificates of retirement to Edna Hadad and Roy Brown.Recognized David Ebeling for 25 years of service and Jabe Cullen for 10 years of service.Received a sealed bid for traffic signal components from Temple Inc., of Decatur, Ala.Agreed to have the city clerk re-advertise for sealed bids for Riverfront Park maintenance.Accepted a request for proposals for lease purchase of miscellaneous vehicles and equipment from three financial institutions – Koch Financing, BancorpSouth Financial Services and Trustmark National Bank. The board took a recommendation from Strategic Planner Paul Rogers and agreed to BancorpSouth’s proposal of 3.17 percent for five years. Koch proposed 4.37 percent and Trustmark proposed 3.66 percent for the same amount of time.Awarded a sealed bid to Summit Pipe & Supply Inc. of Jackson for fire hydrants and Fleet Safety Equipment Inc. of Memphis and Roper Supply of Picayune for vehicle accessories.Authorized the mayor to execute a governing authority supplement to master a cellular voice and data service and equipment agreement with Cellular South Inc. and Mississippi Department of Information Technology Services as the contracting agent for the agencies and institutions of Mississippi.Rescinded a motion from the May 9 board meeting approving a request for a banner advertisement for a Social-Physical-Spiritual Community Outreach Program in the amount of $100 for the group’s failure to provide a federal tax ID number.Denied an application from New Poplar Grove Ministries for complimentary use of City Auditorium for a youth revival on July 10-12 from 5 until 9 p.m. due to board policy that allows nonprofit groups and churches to have a discounted rate and only other governmental entities to have complimentary use of the building.Tabled a request from the River City Bike Rally committee for a donation for the group’s first Rally on the River 2008 Rally Against Child Abuse.Approved an invoice for reimbursement from the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport in the amount of $61.57.Approved payment to Vicksburg-Warren E-911 in the amount of $38,406.76 for the city’s share of dispatchers’ salaries, matching benefits and insurance for May 1 through May 31.Approved July 4 as a city holiday.Approved the following budget amendments: a transfer of $5,000 from administrative services to city clerk services for an increase in postage; a transfer of $2,500 from service to capital in the water and gas administration to buy new chairs; a transfer of $13,500 from services to capital in the grant fund to pay for training for the police department’s K-9 dog; $13,061 from the Mississippi Forestry Commission and a match of $4,355 from the city was put into the grant fund to buy plant supplies and $20,000 was transferred from capital to contractual services in the landscaping budget to help pay for interchange landscaping.Authorized the mayor to execute a second amendment to the license agreement with New Cingular Wireless and Utility Service Communications Co. Inc., which will provide six antenna slots to be leased out near the Porters Chapel water tank.Authorized Midcontinent Express Pipeline LLC to bore under Warrenton Road in accordance with specs.Adopted a preliminary order for ad valorem tax exemptions for Falco Chemical Inc., Polyvulc USA Inc and Cooper Lighting Inc.Adopted a resolution for sale of surplus property on two city-owned lots.Approved a request for the July 2008 advertisement from the Main Street Program.Discussed eight dilapidated buildings and overgrown lot codes and authorized Victor Gray-Lewis, director of buildings and inspection, to proceed to cut, clean and demolish properties.Accepted a letter establishing special assessment and adopted a resolution for cutting and cleaning of a property at 1105 North St., owned by the State of Mississippi.Accepted a resolution requesting the mayor and aldermen establish a business promotion area to levy a special assessment on commercial property for the purpose of promoting business through Main Street.Authorized the mayor to execute a renewal contract with Don Durham Auctioneers to sell City of Vicksburg surplus items.Authorized the city clerk to advertise sealed bids for landscape supplies, concrete and water and gas meters.Approved reports from privilege license, city sexton, monthly tax collection and marshal’s report.Approved the claims docket.In an executive session, the board discussed a longevity in community service; five employment matters, three in the summer youth program and one each in police and accounting; a pay adjustment in accounting; a promotion in inspection; a transfer in police; and three terminations, one each in right of way, water mains and fire.The board will meet again at 10 a.m. July 7.