Policy changes, including shorter grace period, will be explained
Utility customers in the Henderson area should receive a brightly colored insert with monthly bills detailing changes to policy that the City Council approved on Monday.
One resident spoke on behalf of utility customers who struggle paying for water and sewer use, saying she could be impacted by the shorter grace period and higher deposit cost.
Council members mulled the changes during a work session, and then approved the new policies while making a request of city staff to research the possibility of changing the billing dates.
Ponchita Heggie spoke in opposition, saying, “I don’t see how these changes will benefit the city of Henderson.”
Councilmen James Kearney and Michael Rainey each shared Heggie’s concern for families struggling. Kearney said 95 percent of accounts are on time and some are habitually behind. Rainey expressed concern for the timing of elderly customers receiving monthly income against when bills are due.
“If they’re on a fixed income, is there a way to adjust their due date?” Rainey said. “It’s just food for thought. I would like to look at a system where we could help in those situations.”
City Manager Ray Griffin said that billing is done by zone, with residential accounts divided into three geographical areas, for meters to be read and bills sent accordingly on the 10th, 20th and 30th of each month.
There would be difficulties in determining by what criteria some would be given an adjusted due date but not others, Griffin added.
Councilwoman Sara Coffey said she would like to know if some exceptions could be made even though there is the geographic zone problem.
“I can see how that would be difficult to change the billing cycle for that one person,” Coffey said.
Councilman Vernon Brown said his primary concern was to avoid a problem like last year’s “nightmare” with making adjustments.
“This lady came in here and said she is crying out for many, and Mr. Rainey is crying out for one person,” Brown said. “I just want to make sure that whatever we do is done right for the customers.”
Councilwoman Brenda Peace-Jenkins, responding to Brown, said the mishap last year would not be repeated.
“When the nightmare occurred, we did something to correct it,” she said.
Peace-Jenkins agreed with Kearney’s comment that the adjustments were needed to help with catching up on some chronically delinquent accounts.
Heggie said she was happy to see the grace period adjusted to seven calendar days, up from the originally proposed adjustment to just five. She added that she could not agree with the security deposits doubling to $150 for in-city residential customers and $200 for those outside city limits.
“My concern was covered,” Heggie said. “It is a better adjustment, and it shows they compromised. I don’t agree with doubling the security deposits, though, I just don’t.”
Informing customers of changes is proposed through the city website, press releases to local media and one-on-one conversations at the bill-pay window at City Hall, in addition to the utility bill inserts.
Residential security deposits will increase by June 1. Commercial, non-profit and industrial security deposits Increase by May 1.
The grace period is seven calendar days, down from 10 business days, effective June 1. The amendments to the water-sewer billing chapter in the city code became effective immediately.
City staff will report on how other utility companies and municipalities handle individual requests to change billing dates.
In other business, the council approved a bid award to G&S Contractors, Inc., of Louisburg, for the Kerr Lake Regional Water System Warren County meter vault replacement project at $107,905.
A consent agenda of items passed that included renewal of contracts for Waste Industries, Inc., for trash collection, and for Perk’s Lawn Care and Cordell’s Lawn Care, Inc., for landscape management services.
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