CLEBURNE (CBSDFW.COM) – The bill you pay every month for natural gas is about to go up. But this time leaders in dozens of North Texas cities aren’t letting it happen without a fight.
The most recent rate hike request from Atmos comes as part of the company’s continuing efforts to upgrade its infrastructure, which it said it has invested $691 million in regionally during the past three years. The current request would increase revenues by $45 million.
Upgrades have been going on in Cleburne neighborhoods for months. The problem is, officials in cities like Cleburne don’t believe the work costs as much as what the gas company wants people pay.
The natural gas doesn’t cost more, but according to Atmos the cost of getting the fuel into homes does.
On Tuesday Cleburne city leaders joined more than 150 cities, from Carrollton to College Station, expected to vote “no” to the Atmos prices.
Cleburne Mayor Scot Cain said, “We came to a standstill between Atmos and the coalition for smaller communities like ours. We needed to stand up and say ‘no, we’re just not going to do that.’”
The average household bill would go up about $2 a month. Business would see an average $6 increase. But the Atmos Cities Steering Committee, representing 164 cities, found that $19 million would more than get the job done.
Negotiations to reduce the gap between the two sides have failed, leading to a series of “no” votes starting to come from city councils. Cleburne voted no Tuesday, with the city’s mayor citing company profits and executive packages while cities struggle to balance budgets.
Cleburne resident Ed Goodgion predicted, “You give ‘em an out and they keep going and keep going and keep going. It’ll never end.”
Goodgion said he could probably afford the extra cost for cooking, heating and hot water in his house. Unchecked though he believes the price increases will open the door to other utility companies wanting rate hikes.
Atmos is expected to appeal the denial.
The Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the natural gas industry in the state, will then make the decision, and it could grant the full rate hike request.
Of the alternative Cain said, “We either had to take that risk or pay some exorbitant fees and costs that we felt were not necessary and unfair.”
Cities that are not a part of the steering committee have been negotiating their own deals, including Dallas, which is expected to agree to a smaller rate increase Wednesday.
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