Programs ease utility bill management

By CANDY NEAL
Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — This is the month when residential utility customers enrolled in the Jasper Municipal Utilities’ equal-pay program will either pay the balance that is due on their bill or receive a refund.

The equal-pay program is designed to help customers with their monthly budgeting. It keeps an enrolled customer’s utility bill at the same amount for almost the entire the year. A second program, direct-pay, automatically deducts the amount of the bill from the customer’s bank account.

“They work best when they are used together,” said Ashley Kiefer, the utilities’ business office manager.

In equal-pay, a customer’s monthly bill is determined by using an average of the last year’s bills, with a little bit extra added for inflation. That average becomes the monthly bill from July until the following May.

“In June, you settle up,” Kiefer said. “If you weren’t paying enough, you would pay that difference in the last month. If you paid too much, then you would receive a refund check.”

The checks used to be included with the June statement. But that will change this time, Kiefer told the utility service board Monday night. “Due to new procedures, we will have to send them in a separate envelope,” she said.

The department gets a bulk mailing rate from the post office. But each envelope must weigh the same, Kiefer said. Adding a check to some envelopes will change the weight.

“So you will get the bill first,” she said. “And if you are due a refund, it will come in a separate envelope. So look out for it.”

For customers in the equal-pay program, it is noted on each bill the amount the bill would have been for that month, so they can keep track of the difference.

The program, which started in 2004, has 527 customers enrolled.

“The benefit of equal-pay is that a customer pays an equal or consistent amount every month,” Kiefer said. “You wouldn’t have to worry about the fluctuation from the winter or summer months.” Those are the times people tend to use more heat or air conditioning.

If the actual monthly bills are found to be greatly different than anticipated when the average cost was deduced, the average bill could be adjusted to help balance out that cost. “We wouldn’t want someone to get to the end and suddenly have an enormous bill in that last month,” Kiefer explained. The customer would be notified if such a change occurred, she said.

To qualify for equal-pay, a resident must have lived in the location he wants to enroll in the program for the last 12 months, for an average bill to be determined. The customer also must be current on his bill. Although customers can withdraw from the program at any time, they must enroll by June 30.

Payment must be made by the due date, which is usually the 10th of the month. If the 10th is on the weekend, the due date is the next business day.

If payment is not made by the due date, the customer is terminated from the program and the bill reverts back to normal, with any excess also being due. This is why the utilities department encourages people to also enroll in the direct-pay program.

In direct-pay, the bill amount is drafted from a customer’s financial account on the bill’s due date.

“That way, you don’t have to remember to write a check or to come by the office to pay your bill,” Kiefer said. “You’ll just know that on the due date every month, we will draft the monthly amount from your account.”

Any customer can enroll in the direct-pay program at any time, even those who are not in the equal-pay program, Kiefer said.

Information about both programs is available by calling the utilities office at 482-9131. Information for enrolling in the equal-pay program also was included with residential customers’ June billing.

Contact Candy Neal at cneal@dcherald.com.




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