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By BETH ZUMWALT
The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a harsh winter so the Pittsfield City Council is looking for ways to protect its gas customers from enormously high bills such as the city had last February. The matter was discussed at the Oct.5 meeting of the council.
“We usually buy 70 to 80 percent of our five year average early at lower prices than are available in the winter months,” Gary Mendenhall, mayor, said. “With what happened last year, and the predictions for this winter, we have had to be more aggressive.”
Last year, an abnormally cold winter, an ice storm in Texas and a variety of other circumstances stuck the city with a $1.4 million gas bill for the month of February. They want to avoid that if possible.
The city looked into purchasing insurance against a similar natural disaster, but found the cost was too much.
“No matter what we do, if it’s expensive , we have to pass the cost on to the customer,” Mendenhall said. “We have opted to buy more now.”
The city has plans to purchase 110 percent of their expected gas needs at a slightly higher rate than last year.
“Last December the rate was 9.64 per therm, this year it will be 1.01 per therm,” Mendenhall said. “The problem is not having enough and having to go out and purchase therms on the market during the peak months.”
But the drawback is that if the city contracts for 110 percent of last year’s usage and the demand is not needed, the city has no storage capabilities and will have to sell it back to the supplier, usually at a loss. And the sell back is not season long, but month to month.
“If we use less gas in December than we purchased, we have to sell it back,” Mendenhall said. “We can’t hold it until January.”
But all the predictions and speculations are off the table, if there is another transportation emergency like last February.
“Then we will be given an amount and we have to stay under that amount or there are fines and fees,” Mendenhall said. “People like to say ‘Let somebody else conserve,’ but once a gas emergency is declared, it goes by the minutes. Last year, Pleasant Hill came within two minutes of being over their allotment. Every little bit counts.”
Mendenhall said buying gas for a municipality is a lot of research and some luck.
“It’s not an exact science. I wish I had a crystal ball but I don’t,”
The council also approved a major overhaul for the lagoon at King Park.
Blake Ruebush, the fish conservationist from this area for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources told the council he had a plan for the area which has silted in and become full of debris and junk.
“I think we can drain it out, get the good fish out and take to the lake, take the undesirable fish to the river, get something in there to dig out the middle and make it deeper and then clean it and restock it,” Ruebush said.
The city has a vacuum truck that could be used or a long-reach excavator could be hired.
The city, in conjunction with IDNR,will provide the labor and the whole cost should be less than $500. Previous estimates at a lagoon renovation have been close to $80,000.
“We can not make it a lot deeper because of the gaming baskets,”Ruebush said. ‘But we could add some depth the middle. This is the ideal time to do it.”
Ruebush said he hoped to get started on the project this month.
The council also heard the annual golf cart Halloween parade will be Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. and will follow the same route as last year.
After a brief closed session, the council voted to hire Cody Alred for the vacancy in the gas department. He will start Oct. 18.