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Consumer question: What are the rules for utility shut-off notices?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The heat index has reached triple digits for more than a week and shows little sign of relenting, putting a strain on residents' utility budgets.

But the extreme heat isn't a primary reason a Marshall resident said the utility shouldn't yet turn off his power.

The man contacted The Marshall Democrat-News to complain that Marshall Municipal Utilities doesn't provide a grace period after the payment due date, and the company's policy doesn't provide for payment arrangements.

"July 5 was the due date," he said. "They sent out a (shut-off) notice on the seventh."

What rules does MMU have to follow in its billing policies?

Because MMU is an independent municipal power company, it doesn't fall under the guidelines of the Missouri Public Service Commission, which regulates investor-owned companies.

Electric companies under PSC's umbrella include Ameren Missouri, Empire District Electric Company and KCP&L.

These companies typically assess delinquent charges for outstanding payments. MMU does not, nor does a separate governing body require it to.

"In the case of a board of public works, (officials) are appointed by elected representatives of the city," said Floyd Gilzow, chief operating officer and director of member relations for the Missouri Association of Municipal Utilities.

The Board of Public Works holds meetings once a month, which are open to the public. In essence, residents of the community -- represented by the MMU Board of Public Works -- run municipal power.

Currently, discontinuance notices are usually mailed a day after the due date, according to Ken Gieringer, MMU administrative services director. Factors can alter the mailing date, however, such as extreme heat -- the Hot Weather Rule being a state law that all utility companies must comply with.

This law, Section 660.123, states utilities cannot discontinue service when the National Weather Service has predicted extreme heat for the following day.

"This covers every utility in the state," Gilzow continued. "This is an issue of human life."

The customer says his issue was as well -- that his children are on breathing machines and Missouri Valley Community Action Agency doesn't have enough state funding to support him. He says MMU should feel more obligated to work with people's payments, because the utility is their only choice.

"We can't get service from another company," he said. "MMU is the only option."

MMU sends bills three weeks prior to the due date. The "grace period" is five days, beginning the day the termination notice is mailed.

"There's no 'nice' notice and no 'mean' notice," Gieringer stated, adding different termination letters can't be mailed to customers who typically do pay on time.

Because Marshall generates its own power, when customers don't pay it only hurts other customers, according to Gilzow, who noted the amount of labor to generate power is a cost that is passed on to consumers.

Though options may seem few and far between, the Board of Public Works is available for residents' suggestions, which can range from adding return envelopes with customers' bills to offering a payment plan. Suggestions can be emailed to mmu@mmumo.net.

For those who live in older properties, weatherizing your home reduces energy use and adds to your home's value. This can include updating windows, sealing cracks around doorways and installing new insulation.

Weatherization assistance is available from Missouri Valley Community Action Agency. It provides home weatherization for eligible homeowners, landlords and renters. Information can be found online at www.mvcaa.net or by calling 660-886-7476.

Contact Sarah Reed at
sreed@marshallnews.com


Comments
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(Sorry for the double post)

If corporations didn't ask for huge downpayments, there would be a lot less debt in this country. If people had that kind of money for such a huge downpayment, they probably wouldn't even have the debt in the first place.

People lose their jobs and can't pay their bills. People might try to pay their bill before its due because their gonna be away when it does come due and miscalculate ( like my gf). Not everyone is a deadbeat, companies need to have better guidelines for different situations and everyone would be better off.

-- Posted by Elton and Laura fan on Fri, Jul 29, 2011, at 1:45 PM

My point is, it's ridiculous for a company to squabble over anything less than a dollar. Just tack it on the next bill. People make mistakes.

-- Posted by Elton and Laura fan on Fri, Jul 29, 2011, at 1:31 PM

You have to be responsible for yourself, this include paying your bills. If you know that you are going to have a problem, don't wait until the last minute. Many of us work at jobs that are "no fun" but the jobs pay the bills. Jobs are not supposed to entertain us only provide us with a way to support ourselves and our fammilies.

If there was not away to make people pay, then fewer and fewer would pay and soon, we would be left with one of two things. One, the bills for the rest of us would be impossibly high to make up for the non-payers or two, the utility company would not be able to maintain service due to an inability to maintain their equipment and pay its employees who produce the power and provide the services.

-- Posted by Red Witch on Fri, Jul 29, 2011, at 12:22 PM

Elton, your girlfriend shouldn't have waited until the very last minute to drop a payment in the box. She should have planned better and called that day during their normal business hours, got the total and then dropped a payment off. It's really not that hard and honeslty the only person to blame is your girlfriend.

-- Posted by oldschool17 on Thu, Jul 28, 2011, at 8:13 AM

I agree with oldschool 17 people should be responsible for their own bills and not expect the government to support them and also pay their bills. I work hard for what I have and pay my bills on time it is not the the utilities or any one else fault it is your own fault for not getting a job and instead of spending your money where you shouldn't you should pay your bills first and be a little responsible or you should get shut off!!!

-- Posted by missouri55 on Wed, Jul 27, 2011, at 10:38 PM

Kinda hard to call when they're closed.

-- Posted by Elton and Laura fan on Wed, Jul 27, 2011, at 5:40 PM

Hey people, pay your bills correctly and on time and these aren't issues! If you don't know the total, all it takes is a phone call to get it. Don't forget to pay, and if you do don't be mad when they turn it off because it wasn't paid. Personally if you don't pay your bills than I believe your stuff should be turned off. If you don't pay your TV bill it's shut off, same with phone, internet. If your behind on car it gets repoed, same with house. And if you can't afford your electric bill, then maybe you should review your budget!

-- Posted by oldschool17 on Wed, Jul 27, 2011, at 3:06 PM

My girlfriend dropped her payment in the drop box, she wasn't quite sure of the exact amount, well they made a big deal over ONE CENT!!!!! That goes to prove how poor their policies are. There should be some wiggle room so their workers can use some discretion, instead of going strictly by-the-book!

-- Posted by Elton and Laura fan on Wed, Jul 27, 2011, at 11:54 AM

They turned off my 87 year old mother's water about 4 years ago because she was 10 days late. She lived alone, took care of all her own affairs, had always paid on time but this time had simply forgot it. When I asked them if they realized that she was 87, they said that they didn't have time to check everyone.

So I paid the reconnect fee, shook my head and went on my way.

-- Posted by outsider on Tue, Jul 26, 2011, at 4:56 PM

I too believe MMU is crude in it's collection and turn-off practices. Even in the extreame cold, your power will get turned off. Therefor, no electricity to run the furnace. They have the monopoly in town and aren't afraid of loosing out when customers have NO CHOICE for service.

What's worse~ the associates that work there are very nice. They only have to do their job, which sometimes, is not a nice thing to do.

-- Posted by nomad on Tue, Jul 26, 2011, at 12:29 PM


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