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Columbia church raises money to stop utility disconnects, calls on city for extension period

Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia, Missouri
Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia, Missouri. Courtesy of UUCC.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)

A Columbia church is looking to help people who are in danger of losing their power because of unpaid bills.

A release from the Unitarian Universalist Church (UUCC) said the church will be helping out a small number of people that need assistance through its Benevolence Funds. As of Wednesday, the church had raised $7,000. The church plans to distribute the funds Friday.

Minister at UUCC Reverend Molly Housh Gordon said she understands that her church can’t help everyone, but they are helping as many as they can.

"We know that families are still really struggling with the combined economic and public health crisis as the pandemic continues to be such a huge issue in our community," Reverend Gordon said.

The church is calling on the City of Columbia to extend the grace period for people to pay their past due utility balances. The church is also asking the city to forgive or greatly discount unpaid bills so that households are not without water and electricity.

"We know that people's bills are piling up during this time of crisis and that it’s going to be hard to impossible to catch even when this crisis is over," Reverend Gordon said. "So we’re also asking the city to come up with a way to assist families financially to relieve that burden."

Reverend Gordon said she doesn’t want the attention on her church because this is a time of crisis in the community.

"This little campaign that we’re doing is just a small drop in the bucket," Reverend Gordon said. "We hope it inspires people to contact their city counselors, contact the mayor and ask for better solutions for our families."

The city announced last week that it will resume utility disconnects beginning Monday for households with past-due balances. 

Assistant Director of Utilities Sarah Talbert said just under 5,800 city accounts were pending disconnection as of Friday. 

She said as of Thursday, 4,366 customers are pending disconnection. At the end of October in 2019 there were 3,415 customers that were pending disconnections from the previous month's bill.

Talbert said just over $4 million is owed to the city from past-due accounts. She said the questions from the city's credit rating agency in part prompted the decision to resume disconnections, which had been paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Talbert said the city is willing to work with customers and utility assistance may be available by contacting the department at 573-874-7380.

"We are also setting up payment arrangements for customers that may not be able to pay their entire utility bill at this point in time," Talbert said. "So we are asking them to contact the UCS office to set this up to avoid disconnection."

Talbert said during September, the city made 812 payment arrangements for customers.

The city has asked those with past-due balances to bring their account current by this Friday.

Individuals can make payments through the following methods:

  • Online at MyUtilityBill.CoMo.gov with a credit or debit card (no convenience fees) or checking/savings account
  • By phone at 573-874-7694 with a credit or debit card (no convenience fees) or checking/savings account
  • At City Hall, 701 E. Broadway, with cash, check, money order, credit or debit card
    • Drive-thru: M-F, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
    • Cashiers Office: M-F, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Riane Cleveland

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