Getting the ball rolling

Big Spring City Council on Tuesday approved first reading of an ordinance calling for the publication of notices to begin the funding process for the $13 million overhaul of the municipality’s water and wastewater facilities, a 4B sales tax project approved by voters May 12.The project — which calls for the use of economic development funds for rehabilitation of the city’s water and wastewater systems — passed during the municipal election with 1,182 ballots in favor, making up a whopping 71.51 percent of the vote, with 471 casting their ballot against the proposition, accounting for 28.49 percent of the tally.According to City Finance Director Peggy Walker, Tuesday night’s move by the council will actually begin the process by which the city will fund the project.“We are actually taking the next step to issue the debt related to the 4B project,” Walker told the council.The council also met with George Williford, representative of First Southwest Company of Dallas, who explained the timeline of the sale of certificates of obligation to the council.“The form of notice provides for issuance of up to $12 million in certificates of obligation for the purpose of improvements to the water works and sewer system,” Williford said. “The notice has to be published no later than 31 days preceding the date on which you anticipate authorizing issuance, and that, of course, is July 10“Ultimately, July 9 we’ll be working with the underwriters to actually price and market the issue. That means, when it’s brought back to council July 10 you’ll have all of the documents prepared by the bond council to enable you to authorize and actually approve the issuance and sale.”As part of the agreement between the council and the Big Spring Economic Development board of directors, the EDC will provide $750,000 a year for the first two years, and then 40 percent of its sales tax revenue — with a floor of $500,000 and a ceiling of $750,000 for the following 18 years — with the city of Big Spring picking up the remainder of the tab.Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the council final reading of a resolution denying a rate increase requested by Atmos Energy’s West Texas Division estimated at $11.6 million, a move Walker said will likely force the issue before the Texas Railroad Commission.“The company is requesting an $11.6 million increase. Our consultant found there is actually a decrease that could be substantiated,” Walker said. “As part of the steering committee, our city has been working diligently with the company to negotiate a settlement. However, for some reason the company does not seem to be willing to settle this case. A lot of that deals with the fact that Amarillo and Lubbock have stand-alone rates, which are considerably lower rates than what our citizens pay. They are trying to maintain that stand-alone status.”Walker said efforts to set up meetings to negotiate with Atmos during the past several weeks have been unsuccessful.“It will likely take several months before this matter goes before the Railroad Commission. However, we are still trying to set up a meeting with them so we can negotiate,” Walker said. “Unfortunately, until they are ready to come to the table, there isn’t much we can do.”Walker said officials with the cities of Amarillo and Lubbock have recently requested a meeting with Big Spring officials, however, she doesn’t expect it to move the matter forward.“We’re supposed to meet with those city officials, but my understanding is Atmos will not be at the meeting,” Walker said. “I doubt we’ll be able to accomplish much when the people we’re supposed to be negotiating won’t be in attendance.”Also during Tuesday night’s meeting, outgoing council members Manuel Ramirez Jr., Gloria McDonald and Terry Hansen were all presented with plaques of appreciation, as well as standing ovations from the city staff and audience.Newly elected council members — Carmen Harbour, District 2; Bobby McDonald, District 4; and Marvin Boyd, District 6 — were also administered the oath of office and seated by Walker during the meeting.Contact Staff Writer Thomas Jenkins at 263-7331 ext. 232 or by e-mail at