Burrton expecting to offer payment plans for gas bills

By Jared Janzen

BURRTON—Burrton Mayor Rodney Redinger says the city wants to do the best it can to minimize the impact its residents and businesses feel given the current spike in natural gas prices.

“Obviously gas prices went through the roof, so the impact to residents is going to be pretty substantial,” he said.

Redinger said the city council plans to hold a special meeting next week once it gets firmer numbers on how much bills will increase. No date has been set for that meeting yet.

“We don’t know what our prices are going to actually be, yet, and I didn’t want to just sit there and throw darts at a wall, guessing,” Redinger said.

At that meeting, Redinger wants to discuss a plan to allow residents to spread payment of their next month out over the next 12 to 24 months so they’re not struck with a huge bill all at once.

Burrton buys its gas through the Kansas Municipal Gas Agency (KMGA). The cold snap of weather the past two weeks has driven prices from $3 per unit to more than $300, with estimates that it could reach $600.

As an example of how this could impact Burrton residents, Redinger said his personal utility bill averages $150 over the course of a year, and based on some of the estimates that bills could multiply by a factor of 10 to 20, he could be paying as much as $3,000 for February.

“To be totally blunt about it, this is the reason the federal government puts regulations in, to prevent those kinds of astronomical price jumps from happening,” he said. “Burrton, Halstead, Hesston—we’re not the only area affected by this. I don’t see how communities are going to be able to pay their bills.”

Bills won’t come out until early-to-mid-March, but Redinger said if residents want a rough estimate of what to expect, they can call the city office next week once the city has some firmer numbers.

“We should be able to provide people a pretty good estimate here in the next week or so,” Redinger said.

While the situation has been frustrating for residents, Redinger reminded them that the increases are coming from gas providers, not from the city.

In fact, it could be in its own financial pickle if the city defers customer payments over the next year but still has to pay KMGA upfront. He said the city normally pays KMGA about $20,000 each month and had budgeted around $300,000 for the year. But if costs from February increase by even just the low estimate of tenfold, this could easily swallow most of the annual budget.

“And that’s figuring on the low end of their estimates,” he said. “If we figure on the high end, we may not have enough actual cash to cover it and keep operating the city.”

In that scenario, Redinger said the city would hope to work out a payment plan with KMGA, or else look at taking a short-term loan or bond.

“Which obviously that’s the last thing the city wants to do,” he added.

The news of the unprecedented spike in prices caught the city off guard this week.

“If we would have known how bad things could possibly get, we would have taken steps days ago,” Redinger said. “We put some generic things out about conserving energy, primarily because of the rolling blackouts from Evergy. We knew it was going to be a tough couple weeks there, but I had know idea the tremendous amount of increased gas usage with an astronomical price increase.”

Most of the businesses in town have taken steps to reduce gas usage, according to Redinger. The Barn was closed for supper on Wednesday and all day Thursday to conserve gas. Schools have been in remote learning all week. Other businesses or industries have been turning down heat or reducing some operations that require a lot of gas, Redinger added.