In an abbreviated meeting Tuesday, the Huntsville City Council approved an ordinance requiring CenterPoint Energy to cease and desist rate increases already in effect.

City attorney Thomas Leeper explained to council the conflict is over data presented by CenterPoint. The data is not current enough to justify the increase and the energy company failed to provide proper notification of the action.

“This is not a final determination of the council on this matter, but simply a statement that CenterPoint is charging an increased rate that is premature and therefore illegal,” Leeper said.

On June 30, CenterPoint requested an increase of 38.18 percent, or approximately $4.85 per month per customer, and for service charges to increase by 467.38 percent.

“On June 30, CenterPoint presented a statement of intent to raise rates in two or three of their divisions,” Leeper told the Item on Monday. “If they want to increase rates, they must first file with the City Council, as we are a regulatory agency for utility services.”

The city took advantage of a 90-day suspension on the increase, but CenterPoint implemented the increase when that extension was up on Nov. 3, citing the city failed to make a decision.

“The remedy to all this will be that if CenterPoint is overcharging, they will have to pay that back to its customers,” Leeper said. “However, this issue could go all the way to the Railroad Commission if they ignore our ordinance.”

Also on Tuesday, Council declared 19 1/2 Street between Avenue M and Avenue N one way eastbound. The south side of the street has also been declared a no parking zone, with changes to take effect immediately.

“As you can see,” city engineer Steve Stacy explained, pointing to photographs presented to council, “we’re pretty cramped in here right now. When we allow parking for both sides of the street, there is just no room.”

Because the road was dedicated in 1930, current recommendations from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials are impossible. The AASHTO recommends a width of 16 feet for one travel lane and one parking lane.

Stacy said city trash trucks and emergency vehicles have a difficult time maneuvering the roadway, which allows only 14 to 15 feet of pavement. Trash trucks are usually 8.5 feet in width, and emergency vehicles can be up to 12 feet wide.

“This ordinance will take effect immediately,” Stacy said after the meeting. “Our public works guys will get out there and (put up signs), and we’ll work with Huntsville Police Department on enforcement.”

George Russell owns the property along 19 1/2 Street, and has spoken with councilmembers about the solution.

“He’s in agreement,” said Councilman Mac Woodward, “and he sees this situation as a possible resolution. If it doesn’t work, we might have to limit parking on both sides of the street.”

City vehicles, including police vehicles and extended cab pickups, will be purchased from Columbus Country Ford in the amount of $171,465, from funds already budgeted. The dealership was the lowest bidder for both types of vehicles by at least $700. Councilmembers Judy Kayse and Steed Smith were opposed to the action.

In other news, the council chambers have been outfitted with video cameras on the ceiling for purposes of public record and playback on Sam Houston State University Channel 7. The cameras eliminated the need for students to operate bulky camera equipment during the regularly scheduled meetings.

The city will host a ground-breaking ceremony for the new Aquatic Center to be built at Avenue N and 10th Street today at 4 p.m.

The next scheduled City Council meeting is set for Jan. 3 at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 1212 Avenue M.

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