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By Carmen Ensinger
Winchester Mayor Rex McIntire had several items to report on to the aldermen before the council moved into the business portion of the Jan. 4 city council meeting.
With severe cold weather set in for at least the next week, McIntire said he has had several discussions with the city’s natural gas supplier, UGM, about the cost of natural gas this year.
“Given the high price of natural gas last February, I have been keeping in contact with how much the city is spending each month on gas,” McIntire said. “Last month, our natural gas bill was $45,454, but for December it jumped up to $76,051.”
The reason for the jump is obvious – colder weather.
“So, when people get a higher gas bill this month, the reason is because it has gotten colder,” McIntire said. ‘We have been very fortunate so far because we had a very nice fall and the start to winter was very mild.”
That mild start to winter is hopefully going to prevent another incident like last February from happening.
“Basically, they were saying that the fact that we have had such a mild start to winter nationwide that our natural gas reserves have been built up and not been depleted as they normally would for this time of year,” McIntire said. “They think this is, perhaps, going to help down the road on prices.”
McIntire said they also discussed the legal activity the city is involved in, along with many other municipalities, surrounding this huge hike in gas prices.
“They also said they are still waiting on our results from the legal activity,” McIntire said. “We have two things going on. One is the legal work concerning the transport costs that went up 400 percent. They think that will come through around February or March when we might get a credit.”
If that does happen, the city will then be tasked with determining how to pass that credit along to the natural gas customers. McIntire said they are thinking it will be dispersed back to the consumers in the form of a credit on their bill.
Later on in the council meeting, council members discussed the billing problems the high prices on the February bill has caused.
For those who were not able to pay their entire bill last February, the city came up with a formula whereas the utility customer could pay their monthly bill, whether they were on level-pay or paid their entire bill monthly, plus an additional three percent of the amount of the large bill from February.
Alderman Lawrence Coultas said the city has had problems in the billing department ever since last February.
“I just want people to know if they don’t understand what we had to do then they need to come in here and ask,” he said. “We have people here who will explain what the situation is. We also have a problem with some people who might be on level pay but they don’t make their monthly payment and then wonder why their bill balloons up. For some people, level pay is not working.”
Coultas went on to say that those who are on level-pay are not living up to the rules established to be on the program in regards to paying the additional three-percent of last year’s February bill.
“Only four people paid their level pay bill plus the three percent of their big bill,” he said. “The rest are ignoring the three percent so that has thrown a lot of the bills off.”
Not paying the additional three percent is violating the policy associated with being on the level-pay program.
“If you want to get technical about it, probably no one should be on level-pay right now,” Coultas said. “The reason being the ordinance says that once you are delinquent on your bill you are no longer on level pay.”
Coultas wanted to know the last time customer’s level-pay was refigured for people.
“According to our ordinance, at the end of every year, we should figure out their average usage and that would be their level pay,” he said. “That should be refigured every fiscal year. I’d like to know the last time we refigured it for our people.”
In other news, McIntire informed the council that the city had executed the loan for the new water meters and read for the water and gas department.
“The loan was executed on Dec. 22 and it is a $400,000 note, payable monthly for 10 years at a fixed rate of 2.74,” McIntire said. “The monthly payment for the city will be $3,821.39, starting this month.”
The city is responsible for digging the graves at the Winchester City Cemetery and, according to Utility Superintendent John Simmons, they dug 48 graves this year. Simmons provided a list of names of those people, many of them noted Winchester residents.