Aldermen approve utility assistance plan

Published 10:55 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2024

The frigid cold and icy streets of January may have passed, but the bills for those eight days will soon be in mailboxes across the city. Batesville officials last week adjusted utility payment schedules to offer a bit of relief for residents soon to receive much higher-than-usual charges.

City Clerk Susan Berryhill made the recommendations to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen at last week’s regular meeting. Board members quickly approved the request, understanding their constituents will struggle to pay heating fuel bills incurred during the arctic blast of two weeks ago.

Berryhill asked the board to extend the cut off date for natural gas and water services until Jan. 29 for those customers who would normally have a 25th cutoff. Although those bills, which were received around the 10th before the storm moved in, aldermen said the extended date was acceptable due to weather conditions and City Hall being closed for two days.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

For bills due on Jan. 25 or Feb. 10 aldermen suspended the 10 percent late-payment penalty and the $50 delinquency fee.

Additionally, the city board approved a request to have the software agency that sends bills to customers make an estimation (based on six month averages) for some utility customers because weather conditions prohibited workers from reading all the gas and water meters for one cycle.

The ones that were not read in a timely manner had the possibility of having a 40-45 day reading instead of the normal 25-30 day, meaning those bills would be much higher than normal as well. With the estimated bills, the customers will only be charged their rolling average. This move gave the meter readers an extra couple of days to catch up, aldermen agreed.

Finally, the city board formed an assistance review committee (made up of Mayor Hal Ferrell, Vice Mayor Teddy Morrow, and City Hall staff) that will serve to hear case-by-case requests from customers who will soon receive high utility bills for the usage during the storm

Those customers may request to have their bills divided into three parts, with one-third due each month, along with their regular charges. Although it will still burden many residents with higher bills for three months, the action does provide a measure of relief by allowing the payments to be made over 90 days instead of during one billing cycle.

Customers wanting to take advantage of the city’s offer to split up high charges should visit City Hall and ask to be considered.