Utility Board tables disconnect policy

Columbus City Utilities officials have once again pushed back the approval of formal policies regarding delinquent accounts.

The Columbus Utility Service Board decided to table policies on disconnects, payment extensions, payment plans and bad debts Thursday.

Executive Director Roger Kelso, who requested this move, said that they’re still “refining language and structure” on these documents. However, he hopes that the board will be able to approve the final versions at a special meeting in a couple of weeks, rather than waiting until their next regular meeting on April 20.

As part of the review process, Kelso plans to meet with board member Cheryl McAvoy, an internal auditor, board attorney Stan Gamso and a subject matter expert with the firm Baker Tilly.

Baker Tilly previously worked with CCU as it went through the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission process for getting water and sewer rate increases approved, and CCU officials are hoping to ensure that the policies are consistent with IURC standards.

“These policies haven’t been touched in a while,” said Kelso. “… Whether it’s an impression of how it should be done locally or just making sure that we really are in compliance with state statutes, it’s a specialty area. So I’d be more comfortable if we brought in Baker Tilly.”

He said in a previous interview that the board is seeking to codify some of its practices, as they have not been well-documented in the past. This includes disconnects, which have been on hold.

“After 45 days from billing date, a customer is subject to disconnect for any unpaid past due balance totaling a minimum of $105,” the proposed policy states. “Prior to disconnect, Columbus City Utilities (CCU) will have attempted to contact the customer for a minimum of three times to obtain a payment, subject to having current contact information on file.”

This includes an automated phone call and email at least 24 hours before the disconnect.

In discussing the policy, board member Patrick Andrews asked what would happen if the customer doesn’t have a phone number on file, and Kelso said this is one of the items that needs to be reviewed.

“There’s a couple of clauses in there that are somewhat onerous and beyond what the statute requires,” he said. “And so I just want to make sure that we’re not putting a larger burden on ourselves than what’s necessary.”

He added that they also want to be as fair to customers as possible, though another issue is that many people who end up in this situation can be difficult to get in touch with.

Per the proposed policy, past due charges and “non-payment turn on or off fees” must be paid prior to restoration of services, and a deposit may be required.

Payment extensions and payment plans must be in place prior to the disconnect, unless the customer has a notice from a licensed physician or public health official.

“All accounts are subject to disconnect and a non-payment turn on or off fee if a payment extension or a notice from a licensed physician or public health official is not on file by 8 a.m. the day following the due date,” the proposed policy states.

The Republic previously reported that “due date” referred to the original date payment was due. However, Kelso has since clarified that payment plans and extensions would just have to be in place prior to the disconnection date.

An updated version of the proposed payment plan policy includes a template for a “promise to pay” agreement, which stipulates an annual interest rate of 8% until the principal balance is paid off.

If the customer fails to pay on time each month, late fees may be assessed.

Additionally, “If the borrower fails to make a payment for two (2) consecutive months CCU will consider the agreement in default and may elect to proceed directly to small claims court in Bartholomew County to recover the borrowed amount.”