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Power shut off to 300 Hagerstown Light Department customers after bills unpaid

April 07, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown officials shut off the electricity of about 300 Hagerstown Light Department customers last week for failing to pay their bills, said Michael Spiker, the city's director of utilities.

The city doesn't shut off its customers' electricity unless their bills are overdue by 30 days or more, Spiker said. Combined, those 300 customers owed the city about $200,000.

Spiker said several other customers with unpaid bills will have their power shut off as well, but the city doesn't have enough staff to simultaneously address each case. In all, customers owe the light department about $800,000 from past-due electric bills, he said.

"We do not attempt to process more than 100 to 125 per day," he said. "Therefore, it will take us weeks to work through the accounts that are in arrears."

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Once customers whose service has been disconnected pay their bills, it will cost them $15 for reconnection services between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., Spiker said. After-hours reconnections will cost $85, he said.

The Hagerstown Light Department is a nonprofit, self-supporting entity and does not receive money from the city's general fund, Spiker said.

"We operate financially using a cash-base system that contains a modest cash reserve," he said. "Any large- scale delinquency in the collection of funds severely depletes our cash reserves."

David Jordan, executive director of the Washington County Community Action Council, said financial assistance to help people pay their utility bills is available.

In December, a Utility Relief Benefit concert in Hagerstown raised more than $20,000 specifically for that purpose.

About $17,000 is left, Jordan said.

"It's been difficult to get people to come in here and apply," he said. "There's plenty of money available."

Jordan said people have to meet certain income guidelines to be eligible. A household of four, for example, cannot earn more than $3,871.87 a month or $46,462.50 a year to qualify for assistance.

Jordan said each household can be awarded up to $200.

"That's pretty much what they get," he said.

People can learn more about utility assistance by calling the Community Action Council at 301-797-4161 or by stopping by the office at 101 Summit Avenue in Hagerstown.

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