Deadline has passed for electric bill plan

Published 10:57 am Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The deadline has now passed for Franklin residents to take advantage of the city’s February electric bill payment plan. According to City Manager R. Randy Martin, anyone who did not pay his or her utility bill in full or make arrangements with the city’s utility billing customer service office to be on the payment plan by the close of business on March 12 is now considered delinquent and is subject to power cutoffs for nonpayment.

A Franklin resident contacted The Tidewater News last Friday to inform the paper that she had learned of the deadline on March 15 when she attempted to make an installment payment on her February electric bill and was told the plan was no longer being offered. She then claimed that she had only learned of the plan on March 14, and that the customer service representative working the utility billing desk had told her that there had been no letter to residents announcing the deadline. The customer service representative then allegedly told the woman that she would have had to have found out about the deadline via word of mouth or by reading the newspaper.

Martin confirmed that there was no mailing to residents, nor discussion among the members of City Council, regarding any specific deadline for making arrangements to pay the bills in installments. However, he said that anyone who attempted to pay an electric bill between Feb. 12 and March 12 would have been told that paying in installments was an option. After the council meeting on Feb. 28, the city’s utility billing staff began telling residents who came to City Hall in person to pay their bills about the March 12 deadline, he added.

“The reason we had to cut it off was the new bills just went out the week prior for usage from Jan. 21 through Feb. 21,” Martin explained. “That may not have been very clear to a lot of folks but that was part of the approval [of the payment plan] — that they be current. We bill every month so by the time the next bill comes out, they are now delinquent for the February bill and any prior bills.”

The reason the city did not send out separate notices informing residents of the deadline to apply for the payment plan, he said, was because it has always been city policy to consider unpaid utility bills from a prior month delinquent if the bills for the current month have been mailed.

“That is standard for any billing, we didn’t see the purpose, that’s been our policy for years,” Martin said. “I haven’t had an abundance of [people claiming to be unaware of the deadline,] I think I had two come in after the deadline, but there weren’t really any extraordinary circumstances where we could extend it.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, he said that around 15 customers had been disconnected for nonpayment of their February bills, and that most if not all who were cut off had been delinquent for far longer than one month. Despite the March 12 deadline, Martin said the city did not begin cutting anyone’s power until March 19.

“We’re working with the people who were cut off this week to make payment plans with them, but that’s our normal process for people who are disconnected, that’s not the same as this special plan authorized by the council for seven months,” he said.

City residents also have the right to request one utility bill extension per year, he added, and suggested that any residents who had not met the March 12 deadline consider doing so, provided they had not already used their allotted extension for January.

The payment plan, authorized on Feb. 28, allowed residents to pay their utility bills in installments equal to whatever they paid the previous month over a period of up to seven months without fear of penalties or cutoffs, provided they stay current with all utility bills from prior months and subsequent months.