BRIGHTON — City officials are working to implement a program that would help customers in the most exceptional of circumstances pay their utility bills.
Utilities Director Jim Landeck told council they are considering a round up program for 2014 that would assist customers during a time of financial hardship. The program, inspired by United Power’s roundup program, would ask customers who are able, to round up to the nearest dollar on their utility bills or to include a donation in their bill in order to help those experiencing a financial hardship.
“The need is definitely there. We do have some hardship situations where there has been sudden medical or severe injury to a paying customer, a family member who is the wage earner of the household and short-term lapse in the ability to pay bills,” Landeck said, adding that things return to normal for these folks once they get past their hardship.
According to Landeck, more than 500 — or about 6 percent — of utility customers approach the city each year claiming to have a financial hardship. He said through the efforts of the clerical staff, they are able to reduce that number to 50 to 60 customers a month that end up in a utility shut-off situation.
Landeck estimates the city would be able to raise $1,100 if 20 percent of utility customers participate — enough to help 36 customers a year. He said those in severe need of financial assistance, who are delinquent one month or more, run up an average bill of $300. Because there is a small number of people who actually experience a sudden financial hardship situation, Landeck said the city would be able to recognize it, and that customer service staff would make the recommendations.
To be eligible for the program, the customers would have to been a customer for at least a year and demonstrate meaningful use of the city’s water in the past as well as adherence to the city’s drought restrictions. Assistance would be limited to one time and a maximum of $300 would be applied to their account.
He is anticipating the program would be up and running by late spring 2014 and said there is about $2,500 form the 2012 fund balance that would help get the program started.