According to Kelly Waller, the Bedford County Listening Project started advocating during the pandemic to help people pay their utility bills. This came as Shelbyville Power, Water, and Sewerage …
According to Kelly Waller, the Bedford County Listening Project started advocating during the pandemic to help people pay their utility bills. This came as Shelbyville Power, Water, and Sewerage Systems started cutting people’s water and electricity off due to late payments.
But even though the pandemic has ended, many Shelbyville customers are still facing difficulties paying utilities. It’s a problem especially since many leases require the utilities to be kept on or else are threatened with eviction. “Plus, winter is coming and it’s going to be cold,” said Waller.
Now some renters and homeowners are claiming they can’t make partial payments due to a policy change.
However, Jason Reese, General Manager of Shelbyville Power, Water, and Sewerage Systems, told the Times-Gazette in an email, “SPWS has always and continues to accept partial payments on customer accounts. There has been no change to this policy.”
Yet, there still seems to be confusion among many SPWS customers.
“It seems like the major question [they] need to clarify is whether partial payments will or won’t keep the lights on or whether it’s case by case,” said Tristan Call, who’s with BCLP. “When you end up in a situation where one of the biggest agencies that the city has chartered is not telling people what the policy is, it’s extremely disruptive to peoples’ lives.”
For example, SPWS would give out pink door tags as a shut off warning. They were at one time a notice for one week. That dropped down to 24 hours.
Reese said residents will still receive door tag notices; however, this will be discontinued in December 2022.
“A lot of people rely on those,” said resident and customer Cara Grimes. After being late on a payment, Grimes said she called and was told by the front desk that she had to pay in full
Call added, “For most of the last couple of years, especially while TVA had a moratorium on electrical cutoffs, Shelbyville Power gave low-income residents much longer than seven (or 10) days warning before cutoffs.”
The power board has changed its policy to go back to the “old” policy before the pandemic. Reese said, “These notices were started in June 2020 as a courtesy after TVA’s emergency 90-day moratorium on service disconnections ended. Late notices will now serve as final notice before disconnection, as they were before the pandemic.”
But for those in the low-income bracket who also rely on assistance checks, if those checks happen to be late, power is still cut off. Then, they’re charged a $150 reconnection fee.
Call added, “We’ve been talking to hundreds of people over the last three weeks over this and everybody has a story.” Whether it’s a mom with five kids who gets the power turned off to her fridge or it’s someone with medical equipment whose power gets shut off in the middle of the night.
“...Here are so many people in town whose lives literally depend on continuous power because they rely on medical equipment or elderly people who could take a serious hit from a dip in temperatures without heat. And without door tags there are a lot of people who might miss a late notice and thus have their electric cutoff mistakenly, sometimes even due to billing errors,” said Call.
BCLP came out with a petition earlier in October to find out answers to their questions.
Grimes explained, “Our petition is asking them to make it public to let people know so they can prepare as well as tell us why.”
Call said, “If [SPWS]means that they will continue to take partial payments and won’t cutoff power afterwards even after the 10-day mark then this is a huge victory and a really important step for the safety of children and families in Shelbyville this winter!”
Reese explained the service disconnection policy was seven days past the due date until June 2022. The board then increased this to 10 days to be consistent with other utility companies in Bedford County and neighboring counties, according to Reese.
“We are simply enforcing the policies and rules and regulations that have always been in place to make sure that all ratepayers are treated fairly and equally,” said Reese.
SPWS also works with organizations including, but not limited to, Catholic Charities, South Central Human Resource Agency, and Good Samaritan to help customers make their utility payments.
“Each of these organizations has their own set of procedures concerning payment relief. Our customer service representatives will gladly help customers through this process,” said Reese.
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