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Commission OKs gas contract
Goal is to prevent price spikes as seen in February
natural gas price contract
Ice encrusts an electric meter in downtown Great Bend last February. The Barton County Commission approved an agreement with its natural gas provider to even out possible price spikes.

Barton County Commission meeting at a glance

Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Tuesday morning:

• Held a public hearing on the Solid Waste Management Plan followed and approved a resolution adopting the plan.

The Barton County Solid Waste Management Plan must be reviewed and updated every five years, Solid Waste Director Phil Hathcock said.  

• Approved a resolution establishing a public records, documents and information request policy for Barton County.

In order to aid the public in obtaining information from county offices and to assure an orderly manner in doing so, the policy supersedes the current Policy 512, Public, said County Counselor Patrick Hoffman. 

This is just a revision of the current policy, he said.

• Approved the purchase of four rotary mowers for the Road and Bridge Department.

The department accepted bids for four new mowers via Vendor Registry. Included in the bid was the trade in of three used John Deere mowers, said County Works Director Darren Williams.  

The bid was awarded to KanEquip for the Land Pride RCM 5715 mowers at cost of $59,509.96, including trade-ins.

The expected delivery date is between April and September of next year.

This marks the first time the county will have four mowers, making the mowing of ditches more efficient, Williams said. Tall grass traps snow causing roads to drift shut and provides cover making deer harder to see.

• Approved the purchase of a mowing tractor for the Road and Bridge Department.

The bid was awarded to BTI of Great Bend for a John Deere 6155M at a cost of $139,386.40. This wasn’t the lowest bid, but it came with a five-year warranty instead of a three-year one which will likely make up for the higher cost since the tractor will rack up about a 1,000 hours each year.

• Accepted a Kansas Department of Health and Environment Injury Prevention mini-grant for a community baby shower to be held next summer.

The County has received a $4,550 Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Fiscal Year 2022 Injury Prevention Mini-Grant for a Community Baby Shower, said Health Director Karen Winkelman. Scheduled to be held next summer, the event includes community partners offering an outdoor, interactive exposition designed for new and expectant parents, their support people and community service providers. 

Targeted areas include safe sleep and fire prevention, she said. 

• Approved the use of American Rescue Plan Act funds to help Fire District Number 1 purchase 800 MHz mobile radios, portable radios and pagers. 

On May 20, Barton County received $2,503,634.50 in ARPA funds. The fire district requested $88,141.76 for the equipment to enhance public communication efforts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Grant/Compliance Manager Sue Cooper and Fire Chief Doug Hubbard provided details.  

• Approved a natural gas sales agreement with WoodRiver Energy of Denver, Colo., to help even out the county’s gas bills in case of extreme cold weather. WoodRiver provides the county’s natural gas. The three-year agreement means the county will pay $5.37 per million British thermal units.

Considering extreme weather events like the sustained sub-zero temperatures Barton County experienced in February, the commissioners have been in discussions with WoodRiver Energy about how the county purchases natural gas, and WoodRiver proposed various buying options, said Human Resources/Finance Director Matt Patzner. 

One of these is the fixed-price option. This would set the county’s gas at one fixed rate giving budget certainty and eliminating upside risk both monthly and daily, he said.

To avoid the massive heating cost spikes like Barton County experienced in February, the County Commission Tuesday morning approved a three-year natural gas sales agreement with gas provider WoodRiver Energy of Denver, Colo. 

The matter came up during commission study sessions earlier this month. “Commissioners have been discussions with WoodRiver energy about the manner in which Barton county purchases natural gas,” Human Resources/Finance Director Matt Patzner said. 

“The extreme weather events like the sub-zero temperatures Barton county experienced in February brought to light and changing energy landscape and exposed the risks to the energy system, as well as the potential risks to the county,” he said. “WoodRiver Energy proposed various buying options to the county, and of these options, commissioners have shown interest in the fixed-price option.”

This would set the county’s gas at one fixed rate, giving budget certainty and eliminating the impacts of price spikes. The sales agreement covers natural gas use for courthouse, the Sheriff’s Office, the jail and the Health Department. 

The company proposed two alternatives, a one-year contract and the three-year contract. The three-year term provides gas at $5.37 per million British thermal units, and the one-year at $5.96.

This contract covers just what the county uses for the three meters included. There is no set minimum, he said,

Patzner said the county has some smaller meters and on larger one at the Road and Bridge Department that are not covered by this agreement. Those are still at the monthly open rate and are through Kansas Gas Service, not WoodRiver.

Road and Bridge is a significant gas user, but wasn’t a part of the original WoodRiver negotiations years ago, Patzner said. Although it is unlikely they can add it to this deal, county officials said there a chance it could be set up on a separate agreement.

“In the next three years if we have a really cold winter, we’ll be happy to have this,” District 1 Commissioner Kirby Krier said.

The February cold snap jacked that month’s gas bill over 15 times higher than it was in January. Following the arctic blast, the county’s bill from WoodRiver was $21,267.10 to heat the Courthouse, Sheriff’s Office, Detention Facility and the Health Department.

To put it in prospective, the January the bill was $1,381.36 for the county buildings.  

The county tapped its capital improvement funds to cover the expense. Basically, this paid for it out of the county’s reserves, or savings, rather than out of the regular operating budget.

Patzner said the contract amount is still higher than what was paid in January. But, the premium helps assure more even billing, especially with the possibility of cold snaps becoming more common.