Archive for Thursday, May 3, 2001

Time to pay delinquent winter gas bills

May 3, 2001

Customers with overdue utility bills need to make payment plans now or face the prospect a summer with no electrical or gas service, said Jodi Hitchcock, coordinator of De Soto's Johnson County Multi-Service Center.

May 1 was the first day utilities could cut off power and gas to Kansas customers under the state's cold-weather rule, Hitchcock said.

"It's happening everywhere," she said. "We always have a large demand for energy assistance. With service being disconnected, it's been tremendously busy."

But while utilities could end service as of Tuesday, customers with overdue accounts can get service restored if they enter into a 12-month arrangement to pay delinquent bills, Hitchcock said. That allows customers to spread their overdue balances over the next 11 months, she said.

Customers have until May 31 to enter into such an arrangement, Hitchcock said. After that date, utilities can deny service until the complete balance is paid, she said.

"People need to make a plan this month," she said. "Some people think because they have small children, utilities won't disconnect service. That's not the case."

What utility companies want is evidence customers are making a good-faith effort to pay overdue bills, Hitchcock said.

Help with overdue bills is limited, Hitchcock said. The county has a program for income-eligible households. Hitchcock said she can also refer applicants to Catholic Charities in Olathe, which administers Kansas Power and LIght's assistance program, Project Deserve.

The county was able to add another $50 to the amount of assistance it provides qualified applicants, Hitchcock said. The De Soto City Council provided relief when it agreed to rebate the franchise tax added to natural gas, she said.

"That's 5 percent. That will make a difference," she said. "We're fortunate in De Soto because the Greeley Gas office is in Bonner Springs. When I approached them about the franchise tax, they said 'give us an account number and we will figure the amount of the franchise tax.' They really are great to work with."

If there is little Hitchcock can provide in the way of energy assistance, she can help those strapped by energy bills save money in other areas, Hitchcock said. De Soto schools' and the county employees' Feed the Need food drive keep her food pantry shelves well stocked, she said.

While the pantry is generally well stocked, Hitchcock said there is always a need for detergents, household cleaners and toiletry. Those wanting to make donations to the pantry can call Hitchcock at 583-1152.

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