BREAUX BRIDGE — Voters in Breaux Bridge will decide Dec. 8 whether to sell the city’s natural gas distribution system to a private company, a move the mayor said will put the service in more-experienced hands.

Early voting begins Saturday.

The ballot measure would allow the city, which has about 1,200 natural gas customers, to sell its distribution system to Atmos Energy Corp., which already serves part of Breaux Bridge.

The proposal to sell the city-owned natural gas system was prompted in part by new federal regulations that will require more careful management and maintenance of the gas service, Breaux Bridge Mayor Jack Dale Delhomme said.

“We have hardworking people, but we have no experience in gas,” he said. “… I don’t have the resources. I don’t have the people to go to school for this.”

Delhomme also said that liability has long been an issue for the city’s gas service.

“I would feel more comfortable knowing you have a certified utility company that can really take care of the gas part,” he said.

The mayor said the city’s distribution lines serve the older parts of Breaux Bridge, and Atmos Energy is already established in newer areas of the city.

Atmos Energy spokesman Trey Hill said the company has about 600 customers in Breaux Bridge.

Hill said customers on the city’s gas system would likely see a slight increase in gas bills if Atmos takes it over, but both he and Delhomme said increases would be expected even if the city keeps the system because of increased expenses related to the new regulations.

“You have to perfect everything you do, but it costs to do that,” Delhomme said.

Existing customers would see enhanced service because Atmos is a dedicated gas company with experienced gas crews available 24 hours a day, Hill said.

Hill said the purchase price being negotiated at this time is $685,000.

“We think it’s a mutually beneficial agreement,” he said.

Atmos Energy is a Dallas gas company with operations in nine states.