Calera raises natural gas prices by 75 percent

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Calera residents will see a hike in their November utilities bill following a vote by the Calera city council to raise the city’s natural gas prices by 75 percent.

More than 2,000 customers that currently get gas service from the Calera gas system will feel the impact of the increase, which comes after two years of the system operating over-budget.

City officials said for the past half-decade, Calera has kept prices at a constant level by paying inflation prices off with money from the city’s general fund.

After years of avoiding passing the rising costs on to Calera residents, records show that the city was losing a substantial amount of money by not raising natural gas prices.

&uot;The city of Calera has absorbed the increase of gas prices to help keep costs low for its citizens,&uot; Councilmember Bobby Joe Phillips said.

&uot;This has left us with a serious financial burden.&uot;

The increase will bring an average natural gas bill from around $90 a month to $160 per billing cycle.

Calera is one of few municipalities left in Alabama that still operates its own gas system, which officials say allows the city to keep prices lower than private companies would offer.

&uot;Even with the percentage increase that we’re talking about, it would be a lot worse if an outside company was in charge,&uot; Councilmember Mike Roberson said. &uot;This is in the best interest of the city.&uot;

City financial director Mike Hinson said the increasing deficit had gone unnoticed for a long time and he was able to bring the deficit to the council’s attention.

Hinson noted that in 1999 the cost of natural gas per 100 cubic feet was at 89 cents.

The projected amount for 2005, however, sits at $12.60 per unit Hinson said.

Residents attending the council’s meeting expressed concerns about not receiving and warning of such a large increase in prices.

Calera resident Michelle O’Neal asked whether the city would consider an incremental increase in prices in order to alleviate the sudden increase.

&uot;I understand that the prices have to be raised,&uot; she said. &uot;But increasing it over time would be more fair.&uot;

The council voted 4-1 to pass the resolution for the price increase, with Councilmember David Bradshaw casting the lone vote against.

Bradshaw cited a 4 percent tax on top of the increase that he said was not fairly mentioned as his reason for voting against the bill