One of the utilities customers that Grantville shut off last month for late payment may have owed as little as 68 cents.
The outrage over the disconnection of as many as 90 customers in the small city has led a city council committee to promise a public hearing to get input. No date for the hearing has been announced.
Councilman Willie Kee acknowledged other utility companies seem to have more mercy when it comes to having heat, electricity or water.
“The customer accrued a late fee, and this doesn’t seem like good management or leadership,” Kee said. “It’s a waste of resources, and it cost more to cut off. The customer said they had never been late or cut off before. It turned out to be $50.68 after cut off and reconnect fee. We should be able to use judgement. We shouldn’t outsource utilities, and I apologize. Grantville has to be more utility friendly.”
Many Grantville residents attended Monday night’s council meeting to express their anger and concern for the current utility situation.
Grantville City Council changed the city’s utility procedures in November, and the impact was seen during the major cutoff last month. The policy states utility bills are due on the 15th of each month, and customers have until noon on the 24th of the month to pay their bill to prevent interruption.
Grantville resident Jennifer Bullock said her utilities were cut off because she didn’t know the $25 penalty for being late was assessed to her account after she had paid the entire balance one day late.
Jewell said 60-70 customers were disconnected for late payment or nonpayment of their electricity and natural-gas bills and suggested Bullock get a copy of the utility policies from the city hall to prevent any future confusion.
Both Jewell and City Manager Al Grieshaber apologized for the inconvenience, but urged citizens to understand that city employees are only following the rules.
“We will make every effort to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Jewell said. “I don’t believe we have the ability to pick and choose who we will show favoritism to and allow them to owe the city money. We have the right to change the rules that are not fair, and we need to do that.”
Jewell said the money must be collected to pay suppliers and the city is already in debt because of lack of payment. All of the utilities are purchased from other entities and then sold to local residents.
“As of tonight, the city owes $247,000 for utilities,” Jewell said. “Ladies and gentlemen, the only place we’ll get the money is from the one who pay the bills, and if we don’t pay, none of us will have water, electricity or gas. It comes down to what's fair.”
“Since 1997 there’s been a late fee,” Grieshaber said. “It won’t make you feel better, but I will tell you that other utilities are in the same position that we are in.”
Other utility companies said they usually try to prevent a cutoff as much as possible.
The state requires bills be at least 45 days late before disconnection and that customers be notified twice before actual termination, one at least 15 days ahead and the other five days to allow time for payment or acceptance of a payment plan, according to rules the Official Rules and Regulations of the State of Georgia, but City Attorney Mark Mitchell said the city is not subject to those regulations.
In an email statement, Newnan Utilities Director of Human Resources and Customer Relations Alexis Brooks said Newnan Utilities makes several attempts to prevent a cutoff by using an automated phone system that will place two past-due reminder calls as well as emails and outreach from customer service, and mailing or emailing second invoices, depending on the status of the account.
“If the customer does not pay the full bill amount, we try to get in touch with the customer to make an arrangements for the past-due amount,” she said. “However, the past-due amount cannot be later than the next bill’s due date. We would never disconnect someone over 68 cents.”
Senoia Utility Clerk Lynn Carter compared disconnecting someone’s water or sewer service to an Act of Congress.
“When I do final cutoffs, our guys sometimes even knock on the door before cutting the service off,” she said. “I may send them out for 20 cutoffs, but barely half will be cut off because of the door knock, and they come and pay their bill.”
Carter said accounts that owe $30 or less are typically not cut off.
John Kraft with Georgia Power said the utility company tries to work with customers to avoid a disconnect and the accrual of more fees and even sets up payment arrangements if contacted ahead of time. Kraft said if a bill is paid beyond a certain point of the day, reconnection may not be guaranteed, which is similar to Grantville policy.