THOMASVILLE — At the top of the Monday Thomasville City Council meeting, Council member David Hufstetler made a motion to table an agenda item pertaining to delinquent utility accounts. No second was made. The motion died.
Hufstetler's motion came after two residents, citing unemployment and the COVID-19 pandemic, asked the council not to approve the proposed utility bill ruling.
"I'm just trying to buy some time until I can convince you guys," Hufstetler told fellow council members.
Council member Jay Flowers pointed out the amount of time city staff put into the proposal. The ruling was to go into effect Jan. 1. Flowers said implementation might be delayed.
According to the city, there are on average 600 to 700 utility accounts that reach delinquency status monthly. Of those, 200 to 300 are disconnected for non-payment of services, creating a monthly past-due balance of about $300,000, with historic annual bad debt write-offs that have exceeded $750,000.
The current delinquent fee is $20 for all utilities, regardless of past-due amount. CNSNext service is a $5 fee. Service charges are applied three days after the due date — 22 days after a customer receives a monthly bill. In the existing policy, when customers are cut off because of non-payment, there is no service charge for reconnection during normal business hours. The after-hours service charge is $12.
The new recommended late fee charge is 7 percent of total past due balance, applied at 22 days after the customer receives a bill. The charge will be capped at $500, with a minimum of $10. Additionally, staff recommends a $50 delinquent reconnect fee during normal business hours and a $75 reconnect fee for after hours and weekend service.
The recommended fees are not expected to generate additional revenue, but to recover administrative and operational expenses incurred in providing the services.
Hufstetler said proposed new utility rulings would hurt some residents, such as a young mother with a child and no power.
The proposed change is not a revenue issue, the mayor pro tem said, describing city government as "rich."
"I just think we're better than that," he said. "What we've been doing has worked. We don't need the money."
He added that city officials are discussing "electrical rate adjustments."
"We all know what that means," Hufstetler said, adding that the goal is to reconnect services.
"The real goal is to change behavior," Flowers interjected.
The city is trying to cut costs and change behavior, City Manager Alan Carson told the council.
Council member Todd Mobley made a motion to approve the requested action, with the $50 reconnect fee during business hours and a $75 fee after hours and on weekends.
Council member Wanda Warren provided the second to the motion. Hufstetler voted "absolutely no."
The ruling will go into effect April 1, 2021.
Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820