For Millie Jackson, a proposed utility rate increase could be disastrous.



For Millie Jackson, a proposed utility rate increase could be disastrous.

   Jackson runs the state-licensed Millie’s Daycare from her Hannibal home, and says the facility will suffer if yet another cost rises.

   Atmos Energy has filed a $6.4 million natural gas rate hike request that would include Marion, Lewis, Monroe, Pike and Ralls counties.

   The Texas-based utility says the average residential customer would see an increase of $8.81 monthly.

   If approved by the Missouri Public Service Commission, the proposal would likely not go into effect until next fall.

   “It will be horrible,” said Jackson, a single parent who also is raising two grandchildren. “I’m just barely making it. When you’re already on a budget, that’s where you want it to stay.”

   Atmos spokesman Steve Green said the company’s basic rates for Northeast Missouri have not gone up since 1995.

   During that time, he said, Atmos has invested $54 million in its system statewide while continuing to provide dependable service.

   “We’ve waited up to 14 years before doing this,” Green said. “We’ve economized and operated more efficiently, but it’s gotten to the point where we need a rate increase to get a return on our investment.”

   Atmos has received good ratings from the Better Business Bureau and positive grades from investment services. It also has gotten government awards for emissions reductions and has been rated highly for customer service.

   Green said none of that would change.

   “We try to do our very best to serve customers,” he said. “Unfortunately, after this many years (without a rate hike) it’s caught up with us and we feel we need to raise rates to maintain that service.”

   The Public Service Commission will hold hearings on Atmos’ request before deciding whether to approve it. Dates had not been set.

   Jackson said she feels trapped. She can’t raise her daycare rates because many of her clients get state-paid childcare over which she has no control.

   “They should be in our shoes,” Jackson said. “They make good money. We don’t make good money.”

   Social service agency spokespeople agree the rate increase would have an impact on the budgets of many families, particularly if prices rise.

   Natural gas futures climbed to within a few cents of a 12-month high earlier this week, but prices still are comparatively low because of a market glut.

   “Any increase is going to have an impact,” said Dave Dexheimer of Douglass Community Services in Hannibal, which gets more than a dozen calls a day for utility assistance. “There isn’t enough money in this area to meet utility needs.”

   Jackson’s monthly gas bill is around $113. While an $8 or $9 increase doesn’t sound like much, Jackson said that money could go a long way toward buying supplies and other daycare center needs.

    “I’ll budget, budget, budget,” she said. “I can’t close. We’ve got to survive.”