Gas revenues

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Aldermen want to guard gas revenues

 By Billy Davis

Como aldermen sought assurance last week that monies set aside to maintain the town’s natural gas system will not be spent on other expenses.

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One plea came from Alderman Bill Mitchell, who got in a verbal sparring match with Mayor Everette Hill over a stated agreement to protect customers’ natural gas payments.

Hill said the monies would be used for maintaining the system but then noted that the Board of Aldermen has the legal right to spend those funds on other expenses.

“No,” Mitchell responded firmly, “I’m saying we do not take that money out.”

Aldermen voted June 12 to enter a management contract with Mississippi Natural, which has been seeking to purchase the town’s natural gas system since 2008.

At the June meeting Mississippi Natural representative Bob Conrad dangled the management agreement as a “plan B,” when board discussion suggested Hill may veto the sale if Mitchell and fellow aldermen Forster Ruhl and Clark Gregory voted to sell.

Mitchell, Ruhl and Gregory voted to enter the management contract while Rubby Higgenbottom and Teresa Dishmon voted against it.

Mitchell stated at the June meeting that the natural gas fund shouldn’t be used as a “profit center” for town government and similar comments resurfaced at the July 10 meeting.

Mitchell reminded Hill and fellow aldermen that four years had passed leading up to the expected sell of the natural gas system and the town’s infrastructure remains in bad shape.

“That is proof that this city can’t manage our natural gas because we let it go to hell,” said Mitchell.

At one point in the meeting Gregory seconded Mitchell’s suggestion to protect natural gas funds and suggested a separate fund for those monies.  

City Clerk Scott Rhines, responding to the suggestion minutes later, said it is possible to separate those payments from other municipal bills.

Rhines also waded into the controversy just a bit. He suggested there is money available for replacing meters and testing the lines, but he said it’s true that town government is spending the funds on other expenses.

Rhines asked if it was necessary to seek a board vote for a separate fund but was told to simply report back with his plans.

Mayor Hill and aldermen also voted to advertise for a certified gas operator, using a job bank through the Mississippi Municipal League.

“We need to advertise for a gas operator across the state,” said Gregory, “not somebody with a wrench in their back pocket.”

Mitchell and the mayor also sparred over Hill’s stated suggestion that he could become a certified gas operator in order to maintain the town’s natural gas system.

Mayor Hill received some applause from the audience, when he suggested he would seek certification, but Mitchell scoffed at the idea.

“You’re not going to become certified over night,” the alderman told the mayor.

Mitchell and Hill also tussled over last month’s failed sale to Mississippi Natural. The mayor said he opposed the sale but Mitchell suggested the mayor could have negotiated with the company.