In Case You Forgot, Your Atmos Bill Will Go Up Slightly in 2010 as City Hikes Franchise Fee

As it's the last day of the year and all, let's wrap up some unfinished business -- like, oh, the fact your gas bill is going up in the spring of 2010, in part thanks to City Hall. Maybe you remember: Back in September, when the city was trying find change under sofa cushions to cover the $190 million budget shortfall, City Manager Mary Suhm proposed hiking Atmos Energy Corp.'s franchise fee from 4 percent to 5 percent when its deal with the city expired, well, today. A franchise fee, for those needing a refresher, is "collected on behalf of the city where the utility operates in return for the right to use the rights of way, or the conveyances, throughout the community for delivering utility services," in the words of Gerald Hunter, director of communications for Atmos. And that fee's passed along to the customer. Just look at your Atmos bill. That's it right there: "RIDER FF: 0.04082."

The council voted to OK the increase in order to save rec center and senior programs, based on a proposal from Ron Natinsky. And when it returns from its winter break on Wednesday, the council will be briefed on the hike, which is expected to generate $12 million in annual revenue for the city -- a $1.3 million bump from the current deal. Beginning 2011, the energy provider will also pay the city $50,000 annually for Contributions In Aid of Construction. According to this letter from Atmos VP David Park, it's good to go as soon as council adopts the latest franchise agreement on January 13. The new fee rate will kick in March 1 and last for at least 15 years.