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Utility may push due dates

Leniency may be granted to thousands who are behind on their bills.

May 06, 2010|By Melanie Hicken

CITY HALL — More Glendale Water & Power customers continue to struggle to pay their utility bills, officials said this week.

The utility expects to grant about 25,000 payment extensions by the end of the current fiscal year in June, a 5% increase from last year and a more than 20% increase from two years ago. If the trend holds, it would amount to about one extension for every three of the utility’s 80,000 electric customers, officials said.

“We are finding that customers still need assistance with time to pay their bills,” said Tami Vallier, the utility’s customer services operations manager, at the Glendale Water & Power Commission meeting Monday. “The customer service representatives have been given authority to allow more time and be more lenient with customers.”

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The payment extensions have minimized the number of service cut-offs, she said, with the utility projecting about 3,800 disconnections for the fiscal year — about 1,000 less than last year.

Other indicators of the economy’s effect on local ratepayers includes a higher-than-average amount of unpaid bills written off Glendale Water & Power’s books, and a growing number of participants in discount programs for low-income residents.

So far this year, the utility has taken a loss of about $500,000 on unpaid bills from customers who moved out of the area, according to a report to the commission.

The utility waits six months before writing off an unpaid bill.

“We haven’t seen any improvement over this year, and of course this is a direct result of the economy,” Vallier said.

About 4,500 households have enrolled in the utility’s Glendale Care program since it began enrollment last year, said Craig Kuennen, public benefits marketing manager for the utility.

Residents who meet low-income requirements can receive a $10 monthly discount on utility bills through the program.

“We are really ramping up that program, and the word is getting out,” he said.

Commissioners encouraged the utility to aggressively market the program to residents who may qualify.

“We might take a look at that outreach being done,” said Commissioner Zanku Armenian.

The increase in payment extensions has placed increasing pressure on the utility’s customer service staff, Vallier said, which at times has resulted in slower service.

The utility receives an average of 10,800 customer service phone calls per month, which is 25% more calls than were received two years ago, according to a report to the commission. The majority of calls are related to payment arrangements or balance inquiries.

While front counter service is down from its high last year, there are still hundreds more walk-ins per month, according to the report.

Vallier said the staff has struggled to meet the phone demand at peak times.

The average call wait time is about 50 seconds, with some customers waiting as long as 15 minutes to reach a representative, she said.

“This is admittedly very poor service,” Vallier said.


Get in touch MELANIE HICKEN covers City Hall. She may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at melanie.hicken@latimes.com.

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