The city has long offered an option for utility customers to spread their payments year-round to avoid huge heating bills during the winter. It’s called budget billing.
However, a recent city press release indicated that budget billing was a new concept in the city’s utilities department.
Not so, Councilman Morris Madrid said at the council’s meeting last week. He said the option has been available for several mayoral administrations.
Madrid said he wanted to set the record straight that the city has allowed customers to exercise the budget billing option during May. That way, people can build up their credit for the winter months, when natural gas bills can skyrocket, he said. Seventy customers now take advantage of such billing, he said.
“You can’t sign up for this at any time of the year,” he said. “We need to do a better job of publicizing this. You have to publicize this during March and April.”
Utilities Director George DuFour said Madrid was correct, but he noted that he could find nothing in writing indicating the terms of the budget billing option. He said customer service employees have handled budget billing in different ways, creating inconsistencies.
DuFour said he planned to offer something in writing for the council’s approval at a coming meeting. Currently, budget billing is made available for homeowners but not tenants. DuFour said he wants to change that practice to include everyone. He added that he wanted to make the option available year-round.
Madrid said DuFour’s inability to find something in writing about budget billing demonstrates the city’s “antiquated system” for keeping records. He said he would have to look in his shed to find the policy.
Councilman Andrew Feldman released a statement last week in response to earlier comments by Madrid challenging the press release’s assertion that budget billing was new. Feldman acknowledged in his statement that such billing wasn’t new but that it hadn’t been publicized, especially during a cold winter two years ago.
This week, he told the council he was incorrect to suggest that people could get budget billing during the winter if such an option was available only in May.
“If I’m wrong, I stand corrected,” he said.