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City assigns natural gas franchise rights to Summit Utilities, Inc. following Centerpoint sale

by Tia Lyons | November 22, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.
Employees for Centerpoint Energy work to repair a gas line at Main Street and Smith Avenue in this News-Times file photo. Centerpoint has sold its local natural gas distribution assets to Summit Utilities, Inc, and the El Dorado City Council assigned the new company franchise rights last week.

Local CenterPoint Energy customers will soon see a change when they receive their monthly bills.

The natural gas utility company is selling its distribution assets in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Bowie County, Texas to Summit Utilities, Inc. The sale agreement was signed and announced in April and as a part of the transaction, the El Dorado City Council has OK'd a resolution to transfer the existing municipal franchise with CenterPoint to Summit.

Representatives from CenterPoint and Summit presented the request for the resolution during the regular council meeting on Nov. 18.

The original city ordinance, No. 462, that assigned the municipal franchise was adopted on Jan. 6, 1927, and granted the Public Utilities Corporation of Arkansas and its successors access to the city's rights of way for infrastructure to provide natural gas for public and private use in the city.

The ordinance, which has been amended over the years, also sets franchise fees that are paid to the city by utility companies and contains a provision requiring the council to pass a resolution to re-assign franchise rights when such transactions occur.

A representative of Summit said the resolution is one of the final steps in the sale process, which could be completed as early as next month.

"So, everything is going to stay like it is once it (transfers) over?" Council Member Willie McGhee asked.

Greg Strickland, south district director/area manager for CenterPoint in El Dorado and surrounding areas, affirmed that "everything is going to stay the same."

He said Summit has offered employment to existing CenterPoint workers in the area.

"You should see no changes other than the signage on the vehicles and the buildings and those sorts of things," Strickland said.

"And the bills," he added, in response to a comment from audience member Sara Coffman.

"So, drafting our accounts for the payments and all that -- none of that will change or anything on our payments? ... So, all that will be transparent as far as you know?" Council Member Billy Blann asked. Strickland said the only change for payments will be the name of the utility company on the billing statement.

He also said the changeover will be transparent and that CenterPoint and Summit's company philosophies are similar.

Blann urged CenterPoint to consider setting up customer service offices in El Dorado, noting that the area's natural gas and electricity providers do not have such facilities to serve local customers.

"Customer service is a big thing nowadays and I'm disappointed in some of our utility companies that we do not have a customer service center here in El Dorado," Blann said. "And I know you've got to do everything by computer or a 40-minute phone call where it's 45 minutes on hold."

Strickland said he would take Blann's comments under advisement.

In other business, Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer said city employees agreed to designate Dec. 27 as one of two paid days off for Christmas.

The holiday falls on Saturday this year and city employees are typically off on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Per the city employee handbook, if a paid holiday falls on Saturday, then employees are off the preceding Friday.

If the holiday is on Sunday, then the following Monday serves as employees' paid holiday off.

During a regular council meeting on Nov. 4, the council asked city department heads to poll employees within their respective departments about the matter.

"The consensus is, from everything that I got back from the police chief (Kenny Hickman), the fire chief (Chad Mosby) and from the public works director (Robert Edmonds) --, the consensus is that we would be off on the Monday after Christmas," Creer-Smith said.

City administrative offices will be closed Dec. 24 and 27.

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