City council to deny Atmos request

The Big Spring City Council is expected to deny a rate increase requested by Atmos Energy's West Texas Division during its meeting Tuesday night, a move city officials say is necessary due to a breakdown in negotiations.The council gave final approval to suspend the rate increase by a unanimous vote in late February, a move designed to give the city time to study the request, according to City Finance Director Peggy Walker.Since the old GRIP (gas reliability infrastructure program) tool — which was used by Atmos to increase rates for years — was done away with, Walker said systemwide rate increases such as these are now the only way for the gas provider to increase its rates.“The proposed increase — not including the cost of gas to Atmos — is approximately 14.8 percent across the board,” Walker said. “If you factor in their cost for the natural gas, the increase is about 18.17 percent, and it affects the entire West Texas region. Overall, the rate increase will total $11.6 million, excluding the cost of gas.”Since the suspension, Walker said Atmos had agreed to sit down with representatives of the city of Big Spring to negotiate a new rate, an agreement they have failed to make good on.“The city is willing to allow a rate increase, just not an increase as high as the one they are asking for,” Walker said. “They agreed to meet with us to negotiate a new rate, but they have put us off and cancelled meetings. Unfortunately, we're coming up on a deadline that will force this issue to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which is why the council is going ahead and taking steps to deny the rate increase in preparations for that next step.”Walker said this isn't the city's first time deferring to the steering committee. In fact, since doing away with the GRIP system, it's pretty much been par for the course.“We've gone through this same process every year. They propose a rate increase and we suspend it, just like we're doing now,” Walker said. “The steering committee will look at it, and when it's all said and done, the number agreed upon by both sides will be a lot lower than what's being thrown around right now. It's a lot like buying a car. That's really the only analogy I can think of to compare it to.”Also Tuesday, the council is to consider a resolution making some slight changes to the hours of operations to the Big Spring Aquatics Center.According to Assistant City Manager Todd Darden, the resolution will call for the hours of operation to change from noon until 8 p.m. on Sunday — the hours used during 2011 — to 1 p.m. until 8 p.m. during the coming summer season.Darden said there won't be any changes to the cost of admission or pavilion rentals compared to last year, however, as the aquatics center prepares to open May 26.The center is slated to be open to the public noon until 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. until 8 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $5 for ages 3 years and up.“We've met with the folks from KBST and been working on the plans for the Splash In, which is scheduled for May 26,” Darden said. “They assure us they have lots of fun things in store for the event, so we're really excited.”Drought conditions, which have forced many West Texas cities to adopt water restrictions, aren't expected to hamper use of the aquatics center this summer, according to Darden.“We've discussed the matter with officials from the Colorado River Municipal Water District, and at this point we don't see any problem,” Darden said. “We're in good shape as far as the aquatics center goes. Unfortunately, if an emergency situation should arise, that could change very quickly. However, we've managed to stay under the restrictions CRMWD has placed on our water consumptions so far, so we don't see any problems in the near future.”Tuesday's meeting is to begin at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, located at 307 E. Fourth St. For more information, call 264-2401. Also, a complete copy of the meeting agenda can be found online at