Vote to lease

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 15, 2012

By John Howell

Como aldermen voted unanimously Tuesday night to lease the town’s gas system after the Mississippi Public Service Commission (MPSC) threatened fines up to $5,000 per day for lack of a certified gas operator.

Aldermen also voted to enter a contract with former Como maintenance supervisor Tommy Rayburn, who served as the town’s certified gas operator until his retirement in March, to meet compliance requirements and forestall threatened MPSC action until the lease becomes effective.

MPSC Pipeline Safety Division Director Mark McGovern notified Como Mayor Everette Hill about the violations in a July 17 letter. Aldermen agreed on August 9 to hire Rayburn in an official action during their regular August meeting on Tuesday.

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The offer to lease Como’s municipal gas system came from Mississippi Natural owner Bob Conrad whose offer to purchase the system had been resisted by alderman Ruby Higgenbottom and Teresa Dishmon and Mayor Everette Hill. The negotiations among aldermen and the mayor over the Conrad’s purchase offer had occasionally grown contentious. Aldermen Bill Mitchell, Clark Gregory and Forster Ruhl, who favored the sale, expressed concern during the July 17 meeting, that if the town retained ownership of the gas system, proceeds from the sale of gas would not be invested in infrastructure improvements.

Rayburn had recommended during a July, 2011 board meeting that Como town officials consider selling the gas system. He cited the aging pipe infrastructure and the increasingly more stringent requirements of the the National Pipeline Safety Act. Rayburn also gave notice that month of his intentions to retire the following month, but he stayed with the town until March. The town’s lack of a certified gas operator since March triggered the MPSC action.

Higgenbottom came to Tuesday night’s meeting with the proposal to rehire Rayburn as a contractor and to lease the system to Conrad’s company.

After aldermen voted unanimously in favor of both proposals, the audience fillng the room in the Como library used for town meetings broke into applause.

“I really think the lease would be a good way to go,” the mayor said. He said that at the end of the lease period, the town would still own the gas system.

Lease terms call for five years with the Mississippi Natural receiving two-thirds of the revenue from gas sold and the town receiving one-third. The proceeds paid to the town will be used to rehabilitate the gas distribution infrastructure.

Rayburn agreed to accept a $1,500 per month contract for 90 days and agreed to end the contract sooner if the lessee provides a certified gas operator earlier or to stay longer if needed.