PERKASIE — Almost all the borough electric customers who fell behind on their electric bills in recent months have now either paid in full or are on a payment plan and have made the first payment.
Perkasie is one of about 35 boroughs in Pennsylvania that own and operate their own electricity system. Others locally include Lansdale and Quakertown.
Following the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related financial repercussions, Perkasie decided in March to temporarily suspend electric shut-offs, waive new late fees and cut customer bills in half for the electricity used between March 15 and April 15.
At its July 20 meeting, Perkasie Borough Council voted to end the moratorium on shut-offs and late fees.
Council member Matt Aigeldinger cast the lone dissenting vote against ending the moratorium.
“People are out of work, their salaries are being cut, their benefits are being cut,” he said.
“We should be showing some compassion here. This community's better than this conversation,” Aigeldinger said.
“I think we have shown compassion. We did do a cut of electric rates. We did eliminate all shut-offs. We did eliminate and waive all fees and interest,” council President Jim Ryder said. “Being responsible people to the community, we do have to make some sort of effort to collect this money.”
Borough Manager Andrea Coaxum said there were 137 past due accounts totaling $71,000. There had been 44 past due accounts totaling $22,000 before the coronavirus, she said.
While agreeing to end the moratorium, council also decided at the meeting to allow payment plans in which the customers would make four equal payments on their delinquent amounts along with keeping up to date on current bills.
The meeting was held at borough hall under social distancing, with members of the public and some council members in attendance and some taking part or observing through teleconferencing.
Under the borough ordinance, payment plans are not normally available, Coaxum said in a July 27 telephone interview. July 27 had been set as the deadline when the shut-offs would begin again.
In the previous week, 89 customers had paid in full and another 40 set up payment plans and made the first payment, Coaxum said.
“Due to the COVID-19 circumstances, borough council would like to keep all customers on, so we have been able to set up payment plans with a lot of our customers who were in a position where they weren't going to be able to pay all of their utility bill,” she said.
“By October, hopefully if they've made all their payments, they'll be caught up with their past due balance,” she said.
At the beginning of December, shut-offs are suspended for the winter before resuming in the spring, she said.
“For a lot of our customers, they can have a much larger bill during the winter months because obviously they're having to use heat,” Coaxum said. “The aim of the payment program was to try to get folks caught back up before winter set in.”
As of the afternoon of July 27, eight electric customers were shut off, she said. A few more had also been shut off, but were then turned back on after payment was received, she said.
While she could not go into details about the customers who had the electric shut off, it included some unoccupied properties, she said.
The 40 customers on payment plans are about 1 percent of the about 4,000 electric customers in the borough, which shows that the majority are paying on time, Coaxum said.
The eight shut-offs is less than the borough would normally have in the spring after the winter moratorium ends, she said.
“These are low numbers for us,” she said, “which is a good thing.”
Council's decision in March to cut the electric bills that month helped, she said.
“Having people have a lower balance I think really did help people make sure that they stayed caught up with their bill,” she said. “I'm not aware of many other utilities across the entire nation that did the same thing.”
The borough and the electricity customers worked together to try to keep as many people's electricity on as possible, she said.
Council's decision to again begin shutting off electricity for delinquent customers also included a provision that customers could go to borough council's Public Utilities Committee to ask for relief on the payments because of a hardship.
No one had applied to be a hardship case, Coaxum said.