Como Plan B

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 18, 2012

Como picks ‘Plan B’ over selling gas

By Billy Davis

Como’s mayor and aldermen reached a compromise Tuesday night over the potential sale of the town’s natural gas infrastructure, agreeing instead to a management agreement with Mississippi Natural. 

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Mississippi Natural representative Bob Conrad, who has been seeking the purchase since 2008, suggested the management agreement as a “Plan B” if aldermen voted down the sale.

Town Attorney Parker Still suggested the deal is a “management agreement” rather than a “lease” of infrastructure, a term mentioned early on during the discussion Tuesday night.

Indications from past board meetings suggested aldermen Clark Gregory, Bill Mitchell and Forster Ruhl were leaning toward a vote to sell the natural gas system in order to pay off approximately $180,000 in lingering IRS debt. 

Past meetings also suggested aldermen Ruby Higgenbottom and Teresa Dishmon were undecided or would vote against the measure, with Mayor Everett Hill weighing a veto of the expected 3-2 vote.

“Will you veto it?” Ruhl pressed Hill, when the board agenda had moved to the natural gas sale.
“I don’t have a vote,” Hill replied.

“But will you veto it?” Ruhl asked. “It would be nice to know tonight, have you made up your mind?”

“No, sir,” Hill replied.

Hill went on to explain that Como receives approximately $100,000 annually from bill payers for the natural gas.

Ruhl and others pointed out, however, that most of that money pays for other city services while very little is paid for upkeep of the dilapidated natural gas infrastructure, and no gas operator is on payroll.

“We are supposed to provide water and gas for our citizens,” Mitchell responded. “It shouldn’t be looked at as a profit center to pay for paving streets and paying salaries.”

The management agreement passed by three votes. Gregory, Mitchell and Ruhl voted to allow Hill to sign an agreement with Conrad and Mississippi Natural for five years.

The agreement stipulates that Mississippi Natural would provide a gas operator, and oversee the town’s gas lines and gas meters, and replace them as necessary.

The City of Senatobia supplies natural gas to Como, and Conrad described how bill payers in Como currently send $7 to Senatobia while $4.55 goes to Como in each bill. The proposal would give Mississippi Natural two-thirds of the $4.55 with one-third going to city government, he said.

Any infrastructure improvements would come from the city’s one-third, with Mississippi Natural billing the town at 85-percent of its typical labor fee.  

“We would be improving your asset,” Conrad said at one point.

Mayor Hill asked for an estimation of the one-third flowing to city government, to which Conrad said he estimated $50,000 annually.

The company would have a first right of refusal if the City of Como sells the infrastructure according to the agreement.

Conrad’s agreement suggested a sale price of $225,000, though Alderman Ruby Higgenbottom pointed out the infrastructure would be worth more by then, with city dollars paying for the improvements.

“It will be worth more after all the work you’ve done,” Higgenbottom pointed out.

“I’m not trying to lock you in,” Conrad replied, agreeing to a fair market value for the natural gas infrastructure at the time of a sale.

Aldermen Dishmon and Higgenbottom voted against the measure.

Higgenbottom explained she supported the deal but wouldn’t OK it until she saw a final agreement signed by the mayor. Dishmon didn’t offer a reason for her “nay” vote.

Still said the signed agreement would be ratified by aldermen when it’s completed.