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Columbia City Council set to discuss fees on utility bills for some residents


The Columbia City Council is scheduled to meet Tuesday and hear a report about possible changes to utility bill late fees and due dates for residents on fixed incomes.

Right now, the city requires customers to pay their bill every 20 days from the billing date. If their bill is not paid within that 20 day period, they will be charged a late fee of 3 percent of their balance.

During a council meeting held on July 18, Columbia resident Lillian Davis shared her frustrations with the city regarding late fees on her electric bill. She says she doesn't get money in time to pay her bill when it's due.

"I get a check the first of the month my electric bill is past due on the 29th at the end of the month," Davis said.

Council member Pat Fowler asked city staff to make a report after proposing a change in late fees on utility payments for fixed income residents. She says the report lacks information showing if the city is attending to the need or not.

"So there wasn't any data about how many families rely on utility assistance or how many households rely on city utility assistance, how many people are in the predicament that their income arrives at a time different from when their bill is due," Fowler told ABC 17 News.

The proposed changes made by city staff says a customer will need to be up to date on their current bill so they can participate in the program. Customers will have to prove their income arrives at a different time their bill is due and due dates would be extended for an additional 21 days. The report also says customers who are eligible for assistance would not have to contact the city each month for an extension.

The changes the city has brought forward says people can be eligible for up to one year and once they are considered eligible there would be an annual review process in January.

Council member Fowler says, the proposed changes only help some residents.

"Utility bills grow during either times of extreme heat or extreme cold so they won't be able to clear their balance every month, and they'll be subject a late fee and subject to shut off notices, Fowler said, and they'll be subject to disconnect fees and reconnect fees."

Fowler says finding a solution for all residents that are affected is important.

"What's the universe of people who are affected by this so we can tailor a solution that meets their needs rather than meets the needs of city staff," Fowler said.

Columbia's city council pre-council meeting starts Tuesday at 5 p.m. and is followed by the main meeting that starts at 7 p.m.

If you are need of utility assistance, Central Missouri Community Action Center provides help for low-income residents.

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Erika McGuire


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