Two weeks ago, Independence announced it would resume utility service disconnections, and citizens have been receiving past-due notices.
The city announced Friday that utility shut-offs would begin Nov. 26, as nearly one-third of customers are past due.
Of approximately 57,000 utility customers, more than 18,000 are past due, with more than 5,000 of those 90 days past due, the city said in a release.
The first customers who face turn-offs will be residential and industrial/commercial customers three months or more past due. Utility shut-offs will not take place during Christmas, city staff said Thursday during a Public Utilities Advisory Board meeting.
The city had issued a shut-off moratorium a few months ago and abated late fees as it sorted through various issues related to a new billing system and commissioned audits to see if bills were being calculated correctly. Many customers had cried foul about high bills, wondering if the billing system was flawed, and the audits found no miscalculations.
Tom Heinkel, customer services manager for Independence utilities, said the 18,000 accounts in arrears total about $10.3 million worth of delinquent payments. Normally at this time of year the delinquent accounts total less than half that figure.
“At some point, they have to pay or be turned off,” he said Thursday. “There's some people who haven't paid in four or five months who still aren't going to pay until the lights are turned off.”
“We cannot continue to ignore collecting some kind of payment.”
Customers with questions about their account or who want to set up a repayment plan call 816-325-7930, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit customer service at the Utilities Center, 17221 E. 23rd St.
Customers can pay bills in three ways:
• With debit or credit card by calling the 24-hour access line at 816-325-7378
• With debit or credit card through the city's online payment portal at indep.us/utilities
• In person at the Utilities Center or at City Hall, 111 E. Maple Ave. Office hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and there is night depository box at both locations.
“We continue to work with customers to set up repayment plans,” Assistant City Manager and Utilities Director Mark Randall said in a city release. “We do not want to shut people off. We want to work with our customers to ensure they understand their bills, and if they need to set up a repayment plan we will work with them.”
The city will continue its cold-weather policy, which provides delinquent residential ratepayers a brief reprieve from possible electric shut-off. Electric power can’t be shut off on any day when the National Weather Service local forecast between 6-9 a.m. for the following 24 hours includes the temperature dropping below 32 degrees.
Also, if the temperature threshold falls during a period of unavailability for utility personnel, meaning they wouldn't be available to immediately reconnect power, then there will be no shut-off.
RATE REDUCTION PROPOSAL: Independence Council Member Mike Huff is expanding his proposed rate reduction to include residential customers along with industrial and commercial customers.
Huff had planned a resolution directing the city manager to implement recommendations from a 2015 cost of service study, including a 2 percent reduction for industrial and commercial that would be achieved through a simplified rate structure, with an eye toward finding ways to reduce rates across the board in the near future. Friday, the city announced that Huff now wants to add residential customers for a 2 percent cut.
The council is scheduled to hear and possibly vote on the resolution for the rate reduction at Monday's meeting.