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City will require natural gas hookups for new construction

An ordinance being drafted for consideration by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen would require all new construction in Batesville to include a natural gas meter installation whether the service is used or not.

Discussion of the proposal was prompted by an agenda item for the Tuesday, Oct. 6, meeting listed as “Ordinance – Prohibiting the Use of Propane Gas” and caused a stir among aldermen, until Public Works Director David Karr explained what the ordinance would change in the city.

Rather than prohibiting the use of propane gas, the ordinance would simply be including natural gas in the list of public utilities that all new construction – residential and commercial – must include.

“Bottom line, we sell gas,” Karr said. “We probably shouldn’t say that it prohibits propane gas in the city because it does not by any means, it just requires new construction to hook up to all our city utilities like every other city does.”

Natural gas sales have generated about $2.5 million for the City of Batesville in recent years, although a particularly cold or long winter season will naturally increase that revenue.

Aldermen were more receptive to the idea when assured that no existing homes or businesses inside the city limits that currently use propane for heat and appliances would be affected.

Any new construction could also be serviced by companies selling propane, but the owners would also be required to pay for a natural gas meter to be installed.

Aldermen unanimously agreed the ordinance was needed to encourage builders to use natural gas appliances in their plans, although Alderman Teddy Morrow noted companies and co-ops in the electricity business consistently offer lucrative incentives for builders who choose to make houses and commercial construction all electric.

Asst. City Attorney Colmon Mitchell advised the board that such an ordinance may be challenged by a builder who wants to build all electric and not pay a tap fee for a service that would not be used, but numerous rulings from the Mississippi Attorney General’s office have concluded that municipalities may lawfully require that city-provided utilities be used when available.

“You can’t provide incentives, but you can require people as they build new homes to have gas connections whether they use it or not because the attorney general has said that the utilities a city provides are for the benefit of the whole community,” Mitchell said. “Usually they are talking about water and sewer but natural gas is also a utility.”

“The theory is that by at least requiring people to at least get the connection they are helping to support the community,” he said.

Current building codes require all construction in the city limits to include water and sewer hookups where available, and building permits are not active until all tap fees are paid. The new ordinance would add natural gas to that list. Karr said the fee is usually $170-200 for average new house construction.

“We make them hook up to water and we make them hook up to sewer, so I don’t see much difference,” Morrow said. “We really don’t want new houses being built in the city without a gas hookup.”

If the ordinance passes as agreed upon at the next meeting of the board, houses and businesses could still be constructed as all electric and with propane tanks and appliances, as long as the property also has a city-installed natural gas meter that could be used if future owners and occupants wanted to change services.

Multiple subdivision and other housing starts are currently being considered by developers inside the incorporated limits and city officials hope to eventually have those properties serviced by the city’s natural gas for additional annual profits.