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Local utilities aim to help customers while still protecting staffs

Source: 
Glasgow Daily Times

Mar. 18--GLASGOW -- Local utilities are taking steps to help their personnel stay safe and also take into consideration financial issues that may befall residents and businesses due to closures and cancellations that have increased in stages over the past week.

The Glasgow Electric Plant Board, Glasgow Water Co. and Caveland Environmental Authority, for example, have all closed their lobbies over the past two days to public traffic, encouraging customers to pay their bills via night deposit boxes, drive-through windows or websites. South Central Rural Telecommunications Cooperative and LG&E/KU's website and a press release, respectively, have said their lobbies would remain open for the time being, at least, but they strongly encourage customers to use other means to conduct their business transactions.

The latter was also the case with Farmers Rural Electric Cooperative Corp.

"Currently, our offices remain open for our members, but we are encouraging them to take advantage of the multiple avenues we provide to conveniently pay their bills or check on their accounts," wrote Caralyne Pennington, director of member and public communications, in an email the the Glasgow Daily Times on Monday. "They can use our mobile app, website, or telephone system to pay their bills by e-check, debit, or credit card. Also, we offer automatic draft payment. If they want to pay their bill in person, we encourage them to use our drive thru window or drop box. New service applications and all other requests for service can also be handled over the phone. At some point soon, we may close the offices to protect both our employees and members, but for now, we are trying to maintain our normal office operations."

Some are suspending any disconnections for nonpayment of bills and/or waiving fees, while others have not made specific decisions about that issue just yet. They all point to existing policies they've had in terms of working with customers to resolve needs to extend payments.

"As of this time," Pennington said Monday, "we have made no adjustments to our service policies. We continue to closely monitor the situation and will make the appropriate accommodations for any of our member-owners who find themselves negatively impacted by this national emergency."

Terryn Varney, communications manager for the Glasgow Electric Plant Board, said that disconnects there had been suspended, but more details about exactly what all would be done and for how long likely would be determined at the board of director's March 24 meeting.

"People need to try to pay their bill, but if they can't, we are being very understanding right at this moment," she said. "We're doing all we can for now until the board can meet and talk."

Scott Young, general manager for Glasgow Water Co., told the Daily Times that he expected the Glasgow Water and Sewer Commission, which oversees his utility, to discuss its options for helping customers as the situation continues, but on Tuesday, he sent out a press release announcing the lobby closure and other measures.

"GWC has chosen to suspend disconnections for nonpayment of bills until April 1. It is important to understand that failure to pay does not eliminate your bill. Even though your service will not be disconnected for nonpayment, the customer will be responsible for paying the bill in full after April 1. We hope that in some small way, this eases some stress related to this national pandemic," the press release states.

Caveland Economic Authority CEO David Peterson said their disconnects for this month had already been done before a lot of the closures and other restrictions imposed over the past week as pre-emptive measures started kicking in, but they have worked with those customers to get their service turned back on and waived late fees and penalties.

"We have a policy where you can come in and get a pay extension. We work with everybody. We always have, not just because of the coronavirus," Peterson said. "Caveland has worked with every customer unless they've tried to steal service or something like that . ... Caveland's gong to take care of them any way we can."

That said, he added that they have to be smart about how they do these things to protect the authority's finances as well.

"We can't shut the doors. We've still got to supply water and collect wastewater," Peterson said.

He said he's divided their crews into pairs or trios and has them in different locations so that if one person were to be impacted by the virus, the number of others exposed would be minimized.

When the board of directors for the authority meets Thursday, which is going to be done via teleconference, he said he expects they'll be taking a look at what can be done longer-term as more businesses are impacted.

On Tuesday afternoon, after this conversation via phone had occurred, Gov. Andy Beshear announced a new round of businesses that were to shut down.

KU/LG&E, until May 1, "will suspend disconnects for residential customers who may have difficulty paying their bill and waive new late fees incurred during this time."

"While we've historically taken similar measures during extreme weather conditions, we are in unprecedented times with this virus and we want to ensure that our residential customers, who may need some extra time to make payments, have the additional grace period," said Eileen Saunders, vice president for customer services, is quoted as saying. "We are committed to working with our customers who may be having difficulty paying their energy bills and connecting them with available resources that can further assist them."

The press release goes on to say that the utilities offer multiple payment options including online, by phone or mail and will work with customers to establish arrangements and connect them with available resources to help.

"In addition, we encourage each customer to pay as much as possible even if unable to pay the entire account balance," the press release states.

Atmos Energy, a Dallas, Texas-based natural gas company that serves areas in multiple states, has the following as part of its message on its website:

"Atmos Energy understands that the coronavirus outbreak may cause some of our valued customers to experience financial difficulty, whether because of illness, quarantine or a disruption at work. As part of its commitment to serving and working with its customers throughout this difficult time, Atmos Energy has temporarily suspended natural gas disconnections."

Customers who need help paying their bill may visit https://www.atmosenergy.com/customer-service/get-help-paying-your-bill to locate the nearest community action agency for assistance.

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(c)2020 the Glasgow Daily Times (Glasgow, Ky.)

Visit the Glasgow Daily Times (Glasgow, Ky.) at www.glasgowdailytimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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