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Utility shut-offs temporarily halted for Clark residents

Clark County residents who are out of work or have lost income because of the novel coronavirus epidemic and have a hard time paying their utility bills are going to get some relief for now, but it’s only temporary.

Eventually, the bill will come due.

On Tuesday, the Kentucky Public Service Commission ordered that all utilities it regulates suspend disconnections for nonpayment and late fees until further notice and at least for the next 30 days.

City-owned utilities are exempt from the mandate, but were urged to follow the same plan. Winchester Municipal Utilities, which is the only local water service exempted, has also halted disconnections however and reinstated service to those they had cut off.

In its order, the PSC said that disconnections pose a risk of COVID-19 transmission to utility workers and waste resources at a time when there is a “pressing need to ensure continuity, and thus adequacy, of service.”

Lois Hatton, a marketing official for Clark Energy, a rural electric cooperative supplied by East Kentucky Power Cooperative, said the leadership of the co-op had been discussing suspending disconnections when the PSC order made the decision for them.

“They will still have to pay their bills,” Hatton said of the customers, who are also the co-op’s owners.

If they are facing financial difficulties, she said, the co-op will work with them to set up a payment plan, but if they wait too long, they could have to pay a large amount.

“We encourage them to go on and pay as much as they can so they don’t have a large bill because we don’t know how long it will last,” she said.

William Ballard, general manager of East Clark Water District, a special-purpose governmental entity funded by its ratepayers, gave the same advice.

“I’m sure we’ll work with them anyway we can,” he said, and “give them time to pay it over several months,” but it might be easier for customers to pay what they can as soon as they can.

East Clark is a small water district with only about 2,600 who typically pay about $40 to $45 a month.

It isn’t known how the suspension of disconnections for nonpayment will affect utilities if the order continues for several months.

“It’s kind of a new ball game here,” Ballard said.

The PSC said in a press release it expects utilities to establish “lenient and flexible payment plans” for customers who fall behind.

Utility companies in Clark County regulated by the PSC include:

— Kentucky American Water

— East Clark Water District

— Clark Energy

— Kentucky Utilies (KU)

— Columbia Gas of Kentucky

— Delta Natural Gas Company Inc.

— AT&T (landline telephone service)

— Judy Water Association

— Reid Village Water District

— Jefferson Gas of Winchester

Winchester Municipal Utilies (WMU) announced Tuesday it was suspending cut-offs and reinstating those already cut off in response to the coronavirus crisis. It urged those who can’t pay by their due date to contact its customer service department to discuss payment options.

The city utility also said it was suspending all non-emergency service calls and appointments and would limit contact with customers during all emergency service calls. The billing office and drive-through would remain open, but people are asked to pay online, by automatic bank draft, phone or mail if possible, or leave checks in the drop box to reduce physical contact.

The commission took other steps to temporarily relieve utilities of some regulatory obligations and reduce the likelihood of coronavirus transmissions, including allowing electronic filing of documents and delaying the filing of paper copies, allowing utilities to close their offices or limit business hours and suspending PSC inspections and reporting requirements.

The order, case number 2020-00085, is on the PSC’s website at psc.ky.gov.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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