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Tuesday October 21st 2014

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Although the Pensacola City Council approved the borrowing of $5 million for improvements and purchases for its natural gas infrastructure, it was not without some back-and-forth and an accusation of “bait and switch.”

Councilwoman Megan Pratt questioned why the board had been told ESP-rate hikes it approved earlier in the year were to go towards these expenses.

“Now we’re financing these improvements? Could we have forgone the rate increases?” Pratt asked. “‘—hurry, hurry there’s safety problems.’ But we’re actually going to fund fueling stations with it.”

Earlier this year, city council approved ESP rate increases in order to fund needed improvements. In his request for the loan approval, Mayor Ashton Hayward acknowledged that the rate increases had been approved for such, but that it made more financial sense to use the loan for those costs and to use ESP’s resources—the totality of the aforementioned rates—to fund plans to expand the company’s scope and construct a trio of natural-gas fueling stations with commercial aspirations.

Maren DeWeese, former president of the council, said she had not been in favor of the original rate increase, but could see the financial sense in the mayor’s request.

“Although I am completely opposed to the rate increase that went through, I think this is smart,” DeWeese told her fellow board members.

The council voted unanimously to approve the city taking a 10-year $5 million loan from Hancock Bank, with a  2.09 percent interest rate and no prepayment penalties.