Natural gas rates cut after five increases|[08/26/2008]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The fuel price adjustment on gas bills for Vicksburg’s about 6,700 customers was lowered Monday for the first time in more than a year by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

“The market is coming down right now, but we don’t know what it’s going to do from here on out,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens. “I was reluctant to lower the prices, only because they could very easily rise again by this winter, when people are using the most natural gas.”

Five monthly increases have been approved this year. The decrease in the gas price adjustment will be reflected in September bills, with the rate lowered from $8.26 per 1,000 cubic feet to $4.31.

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In practical terms, a bill that was $28.74 in August will be $23.04 in September for the same amount of fuel, said Purchasing Director Tim Smith.

As with other utilities that use natural gas, including Entergy, the gas price adjustment has been raised to match sharp increases by suppliers. Monday’s decrease will bring add-on charge down to a rate last seen in April. On March 25 the board approved a hike in the gas price adjustment to $4.35 per 1,000 cubic feet from $2.56. The five previous increases this year saw the gas price adjustment go from $1.76 per 1,000 cubic feet in January to $8.26 in June.

The city began using the gas price adjustment system for customer usage in January 2006, after the city incurred a $4 million debt from purchasing gas due to an unexpected surge in prices. The first adjustment was set at a rate of $9.74 per 1,000 cubic feet. Before the gas price adjustment system, customers paid a flat fee based on a tiered usage structure.

Smith said it is not clear what natural gas prices will do in the coming months.

“We saw the rates rise continually in the spring and summer, a time of year when use is comparatively low,” he said. “So, it’s really anybody’s guess where it will go from here. The prices out there are still higher than they should be.”

Leyens has defended the city’s role in managing and adjusting the price people pay for natural gas, and credits Vicksburg as one of a small number of municipalities in the state still providing gas to residents directly as opposed to outsourcing the service to a private company. Base rates and usage fees would undoubtedly be higher if a private company were in charge of providing natural gas service, Leyens said.

“We’re still losing money by providing natural gas, but we’re committed to providing it,” he said.

The city also contract sells water and sewer services and contracts for residential waste pickup and disposal. Fees for all four services are on monthly bills mailed to residents.

If you goOn the agenda

On Monday, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen:Commended three employees for 15 years of service, including Pam Flagg in the human resources department, Linda Collins in the court services department and Bill Ford in the information technology department.Awarded a contract for elevator and escalator maintenance to Jackson-based Otis Elevator Company. The one-year bid includes $1,488 for elevator maintenance at City Hall, $2,160 for elevator maintenance at the convention center and $9,540 for escalator maintenance at the convention center.Awarded contracts for various landscaping items to Watkins’ Nursery Home & Garden and Faulk’s Farm & Garden Shop, both of Vicksburg. The one-year bid includes about 170 line items.Awarded a contract for water meters to Pearl-based HD Supply Waterworks. The one-year bid includes approximately 30 line items.Denied a request from the Buccaneers Youth Football Team for a sponsorship to purchase equipment and uniforms.Approved a request from Porters Chapel Academy for $100 in advertising for the 2008-09 football program.Accepted a letter of appeal from Anthony Chiplin in regard to the zoning board’s Aug. 5 decision to deny nightclub status for his business at Speed and Washington streets and authorized the city clerk to set and publish an appeal hearing date.Approved an invoice in the amount of $6,132.58 from the Vicksburg-Tallulah Regional Airport for the purchase of gasoline and other supplies.Declared Monday, Sept. 1 – Labor Day – a city holiday.Approved two budget amendments, including a transfer of $37,500 from administrative services to other funds for fire department supplies and vehicle repairs. Also, a transfer of $14,810 in grant funds to human services department.Authorized the mayor to sign contracts for the Sentimental Journey Concert, including $700 for the use of the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation Auditorium and $5,000 to hire the Capital City Stage Band. The concert will take place Friday, Nov. 14, from 7 to 10 p.m.Authorized the mayor to execute a two-year extension with Synagro South, LLC, to the agreement for professional services of biosolids management at the wastewater treatment facility.Approved a request from the Vicksburg Main Street Program for $500 from the downtown taxing district fund to purchase promotional items for the downtown Vicksburg Halloween parade and costume contest.Approved a request from the Vicksburg Main Street Program to utilize Riverstage Plaza and spent $2,000 from the downtown taxing district fund for the downtown Vicksburg fall festival.Authorized the mayor to execute an annual support and license agreement with Munis Software for $35,996.40.Accepted a letter establishing special assessment of and adopted a resolution for cutting and cleaning of the following properties: 2407 Sky Farm Ave., owned by Catherine S. Kinney; 911 Meadow St., owned by Daisella Liggins; and 2503 Togo St., owned by Hester Williams.Discussed 10 dilapidated buildings and overgrown lots, and authorized Buildings and Inspections Director Victor Gray-Lewis to proceed to cut, clean and demolish properties.Approved a requisition written to Parson and Sanderson Inc. in the amount of $33,250 for the refurbishing of a 16-inch mixed-flow propeller effluent pump.Approved reports of the privilege license, city sexton, monthly tax collection, delinquent tax collection and mayor and treasurer.Approved claims docket.In executive session, the board:Approved pay raises for two employees in the fire department, for 10 years of service.Approved a pay adjustment for an employee in the fire department, and denied a pay adjustment for one employee in the right-of-way department.Approved one promotion in the parks and recreation department and three promotions in the gas department.Approved the termination of one employee in the parks and recreation department.Discussed a personnel matter for one employee in the fire department, as well as one pending litigation matter and one real estate matter for the city.The next board meeting will be Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.