Estimated bills from utilities cause severe financial distress to struggling citizens

Dear Editor,

A situation exists with two of the local utilities that causes problems for consumers. Let’s start with the GPL first.

The GPL furnishes monthly bills that are, for the most part, estimated readings of energy usage. Speaking for myself, these estimates end up way under the actual units consumed. Currently, the difference between estimated and actual usage is over one thousand (1,000) units, or sixty thousand dollars and counting owed to the GPL. I scrounged around and paid these arrears, only to receive a current bill with a huge credit and the comforting message: Do Not Pay. That is very nice, but what if I couldn’t manage the advance payment of what I had to read myself. At this point, I should mention that there has been no visitation (physical or otherwise) from GPL meter readers for months on end. I am not alone.

Someone shared his position with me, where the circumstances are almost parallel: 1) estimated bills; 2) no meter readers for almost a year; and 3) huge arrears. This blindsided citizen, who struggles to make ends meet, found himself between a rock (tens of thousands due right away) and a hard place (threatened disconnection). Oh, he did receive official notification that this was going to happen, if he did not pony up immediately. There was one small problem: the needed funds were not around.

As if all of this is not bad enough, the GPL’s remedial position is fixed: execute an installment payment plan, and start with fifty percent down. For this hapless citizen, this translated to tens of thousands of dollars, which he just did not have. Through the help of others, this customer barely avoided disconnection.

Editor, this is outrageous and unacceptable. Given the circumstances, and its own shortcomings (to which I can attest), the GPL should: a) employ dedicated and sufficient meter readers; b) conduct some oversight, and verification, process over their activities (both situations shared have someone present all day); and c) introduce a more reasonable and affordable payment plan for suddenly overdue customers. I suggest a maximum of 20% down, and $5,000 monthly. This has been shared with GPL officials.

Along the same lines, the GWI meter readers, if they are on the job, might be busy visiting other addresses. I have neither seen nor heard from one in months. The Customer Services Manager of the GWI has been duly informed. In the meantime, the company has taken the laudable step of providing notification in the newspapers of areas to be visited during specific dates for meter reading. The concern is that no meter reader showed during the announced period, or since. This, too, has been shared.

Here is the bottom line in all of this: The estimates cause severe financial distress to struggling citizens already overwhelmed with trying to stay afloat. If the GPL and GWI are not in a position to provide accurate and timely readings of usage, do not threaten disconnection. And do make the payment plan for arrears kind and considerate.

Yours faithfully,
GHK Lall

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