Fixed-income residents fear conflict of timing between power bill and check
by Laura Gaddy
Sep 18, 2013 | 4061 views |  0 comments | 78 78 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PIEDMONT — Piedmont residents on fixed incomes are asking the City Council to reverse a new policy before it begins because some say it will break their budgets.

The policy, which is scheduled to go into effect later this fall, would change the bill payment schedule for the city’s power customers. Those who fail to pay their bill by the 15th are charged a late fee, but if the change takes effect they will face a late fee on the 10th.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” Lois Brittain, a Piedmont resident who is on a fixed income, told the Council at Tuesday night’s meeting. “That one late payment would pay for one of my medications.”

The utility policy states the change will go into effect in October, but at Tuesday’s meeting the council made an informal decision to delay the change until November. Brittain spoke at the meeting and the council decided to reconsider the measure at its next meeting.

Brittain said she has been a faithful customer of the city-owned electrical service for almost four decades, but if the change was already in effect she would have been late this month. That’s because she receives her monthly Social Security check after the 10th and she said she has to spend much of her check on other expenses, including prescription medications.

Officials say, however, the change is necessary to help maintain the city finances. The city purchases power in bulk from Alabama Municipal Electric Authority and the Southeastern Power Administration.

The city has to pay monthly power bills to those two entities. Just like residents, the city is subject to late payments if it doesn’t pay on time, said Mayor Rick Freeman.

Freeman said that while he sympathizes with residents, the city can’t afford to be flexible on power payments. The city receives one of the bills at the first of the month and another during the third week of the month, officials said.

“We’re going to have to play by their rules,” Freeman said referring to the city’s electricity providers.

Freeman said last December the city was behind by more than $100,000, but now, he said, it’s almost caught up. He said they closed the gap by redirecting funds to the power bill and by more strictly enforcing existing collection and cutoff policies.

In the past year the city reinstated demand rate charges for the city school system and for churches and it started cutting customers’ power off when they were late. Since then the cutoff list has shrunk from 230 customers to just 90 customers, city officials said.

Staff writer Laura Gaddy: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LGaddy_Star.

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