Utilities board to vote on disconnect policy

Roger Kelso

Columbus City Utilities may soon resume disconnections for nonpayment.

The Utility Service Board is expected to vote on polices regarding disconnects, payment plans and payment extensions at its Feb. 16 meeting, department officials said.

Columbus City Utilities Executive Director Roger Kelso said that the board is seeking to codify these practices, as they have not been well-documented in the past. He added that policies dealing with disconnects typically have a notification period of about 30 days before the department beings implementation.

In discussing practices regarding disconnects, Kelso said that there has been some variation and that disconnects are currently on hold.

“We’re getting back to a more traditional disconnect procedure,” he said. “And actually, that’s part of what drove this in the first place, because when I asked the question about, ‘Well what’s the disconnect policy?’, we were having difficulty really finding a clearly written one. And so I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we just go through, establish a policy, kind of start with a clean slate?’ ”

The proposed disconnect policy states, “After 45 days from billing date, a customer is subject to disconnect for any unpaid past due balance totaling a minimum of $105.00. Prior to disconnect, Columbus City Utilities (CCU) will have attempted to contact the customer a minimum of three times to obtain a payment, subject to having current contact information on file.”

Unpaid accounts that are subject to disconnect will receive an automated phone call and email reminders at least 24 hours in advance, provided their contact information is on file.

All past due charges and “non-payment turn on or off fees” must be paid prior to the restoration of services, and a deposit may be required. Payment extensions and payment plans must be in place prior to disconnect, unless the customer has a notice from a licensed physician or public health official.

Accounts are subject to disconnection and a non-payment turn on or off fee if an extension or doctor’s note is not on file by 8 a.m. on the day following the original due date.

“If the notice is provided after services are disconnected, the non-payment turn on or off fee will be applied, but services will be turned back on for a 10 day extension,” the policy states. “Customer is allowed one additional 10 day extension, with new notice from licensed physician or public health official.”

Disconnects will occur between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. unless Columbus City Utilities is closed the following day. No disconnects will occur on Fridays or the day before any holiday that would cause the office to close.

Customers who are disconnected will not be able to make payments online or through the automated payment line. Once they have submitted their past due payment, their accounts will be reset to make these transactions within two weeks.

In regards to the proposed payment plan policy, accounts must have a minimum balance of $200 to be eligible and must make monthly payments of at least $50 toward their payment plan balance. Plans can be extended six to 12 months based on this criteria, with 12 months being the maximum.

A customer currently on a payment plan may not request an additional plan. However, they may be eligible for a new plan once their current plan is paid in full.

“An account is subject to interruption of service and late fees if payments are missed,” the policy states. “The customer will be given one courtesy call the day after the due date in an attempt to collect payment prior to disconnecting service.”

If a customer is not eligible for a payment plan, utilities staff can create a payment extension for their account.

The proposed extension policy states that if a customer has already broken three payment extensions, they are not eligible for further extensions. Additionally, the account may not have more than one month’s payment past due. If a customer has more than one month past due, they will have to pay all charges prior to the most recent past due amount in order to be eligible for an extension.

“Staff will confirm the date the customer is agreeing to make payment,” the policy states. “The date cannot exceed the next billing cycle due date. If the customer requests extending to the next due date, the agreement must pay the full balance on the account.”

Kelso said that if a customer on a payment plan or payment extension misses a payment, they will receive a courtesy call after the missed date so that they have an opportunity to correct their mistake. Since the department typically only does disconnects once a month, their disconnection — if it were to take place — wouldn’t happen until the next disconnection cycle, which would be no more than 45 days but likely closer to 15.

“They would have adequate time,” he said.