With approximately 20 individuals in attendance, the group gathered at Rienzi Baptist Church at 6 p.m. for a brief, yet productive discussion.
“We promised everyone during the last meeting that we would come back in 2017 to share what we figured out. So, that’s what we’re doing tonight,” said Mississippi Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley. “Thanks to the hard work of everyone involved and the efforts of those who have been willing to get out and bang on people’s doors, we’ve had approximately 234 potential customers (many west of U.S. Highway 45) say ‘yes’ to natural gas. Only a handful — less that 10 percent — have said ‘no’.”
Passing around a list of those who’ve expressed interest in the propane gas alternative, the commissioner handed out several copies of the current list of yay-sayers as well as a highlighted map of the area.
“If you are not on this list or if you notice that your neighbor is not and you or they would like to be, please let us know as soon as possible so you can be added to it,” he said. “Those who have rental properties will see their names appear more than once.”
“Our next step is to figure out our demographic and how to best move forward,” he continued. “Our hope is that the town will be able to secure a grant or two and make up the rest with a loan.”
According to David Moore of Moore Engineering in Booneville, the project would cost somewhere around $1.1 million and include the laying of approximately 10 miles of pipeline.
The town of Rienzi is currently gathering information on applying for a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) loan to partially cover the cost as well as whether they may qualify for a $400,000 or $600,000 federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to help offset the financial burden.
It was also revealed during the meeting that the customers served by the natural gas expansion may be asked to help pay for the proposed new system/USDA loan through the adding of additional charges to their monthly gas bill.
In the worst case scenario of the entire loan being funded by a loan with no grant secured, customers on the new system could expect to see an additional $25 added to their monthly bill. The costs would cease once the loan was paid back in full.
In the best case scenario, that Rienzi received a grant of $400,000 to help offset the loan, the cost to customers would go down to about $15.87 a month. A $600,000 grant would lower the cost to customers even further with additional monthly costs being only about $12 per month.
A one-time hookup fee of at least $275 would also be charged.
According to Moore, the timeline to see the project begin would be a minimum of a year if the funding was secured.
“It would just be a matter of securing contractors and getting started,” he said. “After that, it would take four, five, maybe six months from the beginning of the year to complete.”
In order to apply for the USDA loan, the town needs to get started immediately, according to Presley.
“We’ve gathered all the information we could and helped David get it plotted,” he said. “It is now up to the Town of Rienzi to get the resolutions seeking funding.”
According to the commissioner, household incomes of prospective customers will also have to determined to ascertain the eligibility of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to help fund the project.
Since the deadline for CDBG applications is mid-May, the town would know before the end of the year whether it would receive the funds.
“Folks in rural Mississippi deserve the same choice of energy as people living in downtown Jackson,” said Presley. “We’ve put a heck of a lot of sweat equity into it, but still have a long road ahead.”
While many expressed their excitement for the idea, one attendee wanted to be sure that upcoming actions would be purposefully thought out and well executed.
“We can’t be all Helter-Skelter about this,” he said. “It has to be organized.”
With the ball now in the Town of Rienzi’s court, Mayor Walter Williams said he is ready to get started.
“It’s up to us to go forward and do what needs to be done,” he said. “Let’s get to it now, because I’d always rather be early than late.”
The goal is to hopefully prepare resolutions in time for a city board vote in March.