Council to discuss energy pact, hear economic development info

By THOMAS JENKINS Staff WriterThe Big Spring City Council will have a number of routine items before it when it meets Tuesday evening, including final approval of a franchise agreement with Atmos Energy Corporation.The council approved first reading of the agreement during its Oct. 9 meeting on a unanimous vote.The agreement — which expires at the end of October — is for 10 years and will net the city $170,000 annually, according to City Finance Director Peggy Walker.The franchise agreement comes on the heels of months of negotiations between the energy giant and several West Texas cities served by the company regarding a request for rate increases. According to Walker, the matter recently ended up before the Texas Railroad Commissioner, a last stop for disputes between energy providers and municipalities.“In this case there were actually three factors because there was a group of cities, which Big Spring was part of, the energy company and then Lubbock and Amarillo. They (Lubbock and Amarillo) were a separate entity within these negotiations because they had already established rates for their citizens, which were considerably lower than anyone else in West Texas. They fought tooth and nail to maintain those low rates. It was a very difficult process. I don’t know how many meetings we had, conference calls, e-mails and communications back and forth.”According to Walker, Atmos was requesting a rate increase estimated at $11.6 million. Despite the breakdown in negotiations — which ultimately led to the matter going before the Texas Railroad Commission — an agreement has been reached.“We have reached a negotiation,” Walker said. “Atmos did not get the amount of money they were requesting and we agreed on a much lower amount. All of that rate increase, that additional revenue, will be absorbed by the residents of Lubbock and Amarillo. They brought that right up to the agreement they presented to the Railroad Commission and they presented testimony and pleadings at the commission. However, it was a unanimous agreement that has been approved.“Our citizens basically will see no increase with some slight variations based on service charges. Base rates will go up, which was approved by the Railroad Commission, however, the commodity charge has gone down considerably. When you add those two together, your gas bill should be fairly identical to what it’s been in the past.”Walker said approval of the franchise agreement with Atmos will not cause a change in rates for Big Spring customers.“The city has the option to come back at a specific interval and renegotiate the franchise fee,” Walker said. “However, Atmos has made it clear that any increase in the franchise fee will be passed on to the customers, which are the citizens of Big Spring.”Also during Tuesday night’s meeting, the council is to consider:• A presentation from the Texas comptroller’s Office providing an overview of Type A and Type B economic development corporations.• First reading of an ordinance amending Chapter 6 of the city code entitled “Cemeteries, Parks and Recreations” to permit concessions stands to be locked with keys provided by the city and providing a $100 fee for failure to return the keys.• Approval of professional services to be provided by Parkhill, Smith & Cooper for engineering and architect services for the Western Container Building office addition.• Negotiation of a new lease with Western Container.Tuesday’s meeting is to get under way at 5:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, located at 307 E. Fourth Street. For more information, call 264-2401. Also, a complete copy of the meeting agenda can be found online at www.mybigspring.comContact Staff Writer Thomas Jenkins at 263-7331 ext. 232 or by e-mail at