Utilities observe jump in cut-offs

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Some Augusta-area residents are being forced to make some tough choices: which utility bill to pay this month.

Water and sewer services are leading the pack for delinquent bills. The city has experienced a 5 percent increase in water and wastewater shut-offs since last year, said Steve Little, the Augusta utility department's assistant director of finance and administration.

"It's difficult for people to pay all of their bills and eventually it gets to the point where they can't keep up," Mr. Little said. "People are being forced into some difficult choices, and it's just getting worse."

There have been 7,000 shut-offs in Augusta and Richmond County for the six-month period ending in June, he said, compared to 6,700 shut-offs for the same period last year. Augusta's utility department has 67,000 customers.

The 5 percent increase in water shut-offs isn't surprising, Mr. Little said, but it could have been worse.

Cathy Hudson, the utility billing coordinator for North Augusta's Department of Public Utilities, said the department cuts off services on a regular basis.

In June and July, 281 properties had services shut-off for being delinquent.

Other utility companies aren't complaining right now, but they haven't hit their peak seasons.

Jeff Wilson, a spokesman for Georgia Power, said electricity bills peak during July and August. Customers haven't yet received their highest bills, so the company must wait to determine the impact.

"We see more of our disconnects in the fall," Mr. Wilson explained. "It's basically flat compared to last year. We haven't seen a spike like other businesses have."

Georgia Natural Gas has peak months from December to February, said Terry Redman, the director of corporate communications.

"We don't really know the impact yet of the economic issues that everyone is dealing with," Ms. Redman said.

The company services 22,000 accounts in Richmond and Columbia counties.

She encourages customers to call before they get into financial problems with their bills.

"We will work with people on payment arrangements. It's difficult for people to pick up the phone and call sometimes," she said.

Not all utility companies are suffering, however.

Abu Khan, the vice president and general manager at Comcast, said the company is benefitting from "bargain shopping."

"In terms of people paying their bills, it's actually getting better," Mr. Khan said. "We are finding that people are promo shopping a lot more."

Customers are opting for their $99 triple-play bundle, which offers cable, high-speed Internet and telephone service. Comcast has seen a rise in its telephone and high-speed Internet customers.

However, consumers are cutting back on premium channels, such as HBO and Showtime, Mr. Khan said.

Reach LaTina Emerson at (706) 823-3227 or latina.emerson@augustachronicle.com.


- Call the United Way 2-1-1 help line. By dialing 211, callers are referred to agencies who can assist them with their utility bills. If you're calling from a cell phone, call (706) 826-1495.

- South Carolina residents can get help from Community Ministry of North Augusta, a church-based organization that can be reached at (803) 279-5771. Customers can also call Aiken Community Action at (803) 648-6836.

- The North Augusta Department of Public Utilities offers payment plans and billing extensions, and works with customers who have medical needs.

- Georgia Power offers payment arrangements to customers experiencing financial hardships. In partnership with The Salvation Army, the company offers Project Share, which allows customers to pledge a dollar amount to assist people with basic necessities. Georgia Power matches all contributions.

- Georgia Power also offers Budget Billing and Flat Billing, programs that vary slightly and bill a customer the average of the previous 12 months' bills.

Source: Augusta Utilities Department, North Augusta Department of Public Utilities, United Way, Georgia Power

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i.b.e.w..electric 08/02/08 - 05:10 am
i guess depending on what

i guess depending on what kind of job you have with gas prices like they are people are having to choose between gas to get to work or paying a water bill.this is the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,this should not be happening here.

CyndiCk 08/02/08 - 05:36 am
Alot shouldn't be happening

Alot shouldn't be happening here, but it keeps getting more screwed up every day. If I was one of the original settlers looking down from Heaven right now, I'd be in tears.

patriciathomas 08/02/08 - 06:56 am
Well I don't care how much

Well I don't care how much gas costs, I'm still buying my 12pack every day on the way home from work. I can get by without water or electricity, but I've got to have my beer. I guess we all have our priorities.

HYPOCRITES 08 08/02/08 - 07:30 am
Now you are down to batting

Now you are down to batting 900. Although I am sure that some have that mentality, I am willing to bet that not the majority does. Recently I got a water bill that was 4 times the normal bill. They had been replacing pipes in the neighborhood and several times the new sections collapsed. After each collapse they would go to all our homes and turn the outside water on and let it run for 45 minutes. That month each house got an unexpectedly high bill. We protested the bill because if not for the work being done, they would have not been so much water being used. NO GOOD. We had to pay the bill. If not for our ability to pay, we could have been among those 7000. That is why I am not that quick to paint all or even most, with that broad brush.

redapples 08/02/08 - 08:05 am
I know I received my highest

I know I received my highest Ga Power bill of the year (of my life) and it was SHOCKING! My usage is the same as this time last year, but the cost has not!

ldsmith1 08/02/08 - 08:35 am
Ga Power's budget billing is

Ga Power's budget billing is a good option. It may fluctuate when it is reviewed yearly. However, you know ahead of time what the bill will be and can adjust your beer budget accordingly.

karmakills123 08/02/08 - 09:44 am
"Cathy Hudson, the utility

"Cathy Hudson, the utility billing coordinator for North Augusta's Department of Public Utilities, said the department cuts off services on a regular basis"....and she aint kidding folks........ firefighterhamer that just does not sound right I think you could have fought that bill and won with a lawyer.

scooter32 08/02/08 - 10:25 am
Why didn't anyone interview

Why didn't anyone interview with Jefferson Energy and asked them about their electric rates, billing,and how the bill has to be paid in (full no matter HOW HIGH ) it is each month! I would love to hear what they have to say! If anyone out there have Jefferson Energy, please post some of your thoughts about their service and any problems you experienced with them!

No_Longer_Amazed 08/02/08 - 01:51 pm
Back to the same old

Back to the same old question. How many of the people who claim they can't pay their utility bills still have cell phones, cable/satellite TV, and other non-essential items?

kat30815 08/02/08 - 11:24 pm
a cell phone has indeed

a cell phone has indeed become an essential item. for many people, it has replaced their home phone. you can carry it with you, receive messages where ever you are, and they save money on long distance charges.

RealMan 08/03/08 - 09:15 am
I hate Jefferson Energy. I

I hate Jefferson Energy. I called them the other day, and they told me that no arrangements could be made on my account. My bill is due August 5th, and they wouldn't even give me until the 7th to pay my bill!! I gave them a $350 deposit, and an additional $200 when my lights were turned off last year. It's sad that I can't have a two day extention for a $200 bill, but they have $550 of my money tied up in deposits. Jefferson Energy don't have a heart, and the way they treat people is inhumane. I work every day, but times are hard! I will be moving soon...just to get away from JEFFERSON!

mable8 08/03/08 - 08:44 pm
It is no wonder that utility

It is no wonder that utility costs has risen to the extent that people can no longer afford to pay the monthly assessment. However, one of the major reasons we are paying so much is because the PUC continues to grant utility increases without considering the consumer. Not too long ago, the electric company applied for a substantial increase to cover their failed experiments. While the PUC did not provide the full percentage, they did grant 30%. Why are we supposed to support failed experiments and clean-up when this should be figured into the utility company research and development budget? Furthermore, the PUC's latest increase based on rising gasoline prices did not consider that the consumer is already besieged with rising costs in gas, housing, and foods. Far as I am concerned, the rising costs are not so much related to high fuel prices as much as it is related to corporate greed.

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