Penticton city council elected to only make a small change to how accounts in arrears at the city’s electrical utility are handled.
The fee for disconnecting and reconnecting delinquent accounts remains at $68, but council voted to add a new fee of $34 for circumstances when a site visit was made, but the power wasn’t disconnected.
“We are sort of getting somewhere, I am appreciative of that, but I would still have liked to see us go a little further for those who have the least ability to pay when they get hit with the high fees for a lower bill,” said Mayor Andrew Jakubeit, who was the lone opposition vote.
Jakubeit has been pushing for changes since the first council meeting in January, when he asked city staff to look at the reconnection fees charged when a customer is cut off for non-payment.
Jakubeit was prompted, he said, by hearing from residents trying to catch up on their bills, with the city adding a $68 fee to what they already owe, putting people on already tight budgets into a vicious circle of debt.
“To try to help those who are having a tough time making a go of it was something I thought we should be looking for,” said Jakubeit.
Having its own electrical utility is a luxury for the city, according to Jakubeit, one that generates a significant amount of income for the city’s budget, but that should also allow the city to be more flexible with its customers.
The first staff report, on March 2, didn’t include any movement on these fees, and staff were sent back to the drawing board with clearer instructions.
The report delivered on March 16 included scenarios based on both of Jakubeit’s recommendations, that the reconnect fee be reduced for customers less than $100 in arrears or when the customer makes an agreement with the onsite worker to settle the bill before the disconnection takes place.
It also included a tally of how much the changes would take away from the $89,000 the city’s electric utility collects each year in reconnection charges.
“I just wanted to make sure council was aware of what all the impacts are,” said Shawn Filice, electrical utility manager. “The impact is actually $26,500.”
Coun. Campbell Watt said he liked the goal, but wasn’t willing to change the fee structure.
“I don’t like basing this on a dollar amount, I don’t like saying that because someone owes less than $100 or more than $100 their disconnect fee should change. We are all in the same boat,” said Watt.
The vote to approve only adding a lower fee for a single visit with no physical reconnection needed passed with the support of Coun. Max Picton, Andre Martin, Judy Sentes and Campbell Watt.