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Utilities may now disconnect for nonpayment

When the coronavirus epidemic reached Kentucky in March and the governor responded by shutting down businesses, many people couldn’t pay their utility bills, so first the Public Service Commission placed a moratorium on disconnecting services for nonpayment, and the governor later expanded it to also include services not regulated by the PSC.

Customers were warned at the time they should pay whatever they could because the bills would eventually come due. That day came on Oct. 20, when the moratorium was lifted.

Karen Lee, office manager for Jessamine County Water District No. 1, which serves the U.S. 27 corridor from North Main Street in Nicholasville to the Fayette County line, said Tuesday the district has about 60 to 75 customers that haven’t yet paid.

“We started disconnecting commercial customers in November,” Lee said, but won’t start cutting off residential customers that haven’t paid until the end of the month, probably the Monday or Tuesday after Christmas.

“I have about 48 residential customers that I’ve set up on a payment plan beginning with the bill that we mailed out yesterday,” she said.

Lee said the state wanted utilities to contact customers that are in arrears and give them the option of six months or two years, so they mailed out a letter with a form that was to be returned by Nov. 10.

“If they did not get it back to us by Nov. 10, then it defaulted to a six-month payment plan automatically,” she said.

They only got about 12 returned.

For the others, Lee called last week and was able to talk with about half of them, and some went ahead and paid what they owed at once, and the rest opted for the six-month payment plan. Those that she wasn’t able to reach also were set up for six months.

The water district has about 2,500 customers.

Those who need help paying their bills are referred to Bluegrass Community Action, which handles the state government’s Healthy at Home Utility Relief Fund, part of the CARES Act federal funding for coronavirus emergency assistance.

Lee said Bluegrass Community Action has paid some of the bills, about two per week, and The Salvation Army has also paid some.

Delta Gas, which serves Jessamine County and has an office in Nicholasville, is not only referring customers to Community Action’s Low Income Heating Assistance Program and other resources, but it also has its own energy assistance program.

“Delta’s EAP is facilitated by Community Action agencies and assists qualified customers through credits to their winter gas bills,” Rita Black, director of customer relations for Peoples, Delta’s parent company, said in a press release.

Customer eligibility has been increased to 200 percent of federal poverty level this year for utility customers.

Municipal utilities are not regulated by the Public Service Commission and were not covered by the governor’s executive order until May, but Nicholasville Utilities voluntarily ended disconnections in March. Now they have resumed.

Bob Amato, the city’s utilities director, said Tuesday that as of mid-November, Nichoasville had about 2,500 delinquent accounts, but many customers paid off their balance when they were notified that disconnections were about to resume, leaving about 1,400 that haven’t.

Most of those will be on six-month payment plans, Amato said.

“In order not to be cut off they need to pay their current month’s bill plus a payment plan payment” for at least one-sixth of the amount they are behind.

Amato said many city utility customers have gotten vouchers from Blue Grass Community Action for assistance.

Other utility services in Jessamine County include Blue Grass Energy, Jessamine South Elkhorn Water District, Kentucky Utilities and Wilmore Water and Sewer.

An October survey of utilities by the Public Service Commission found that Kentuckians needed at least $75 million to keep their lights and heat on and their water running, and that figure could double by year’s end.

The governor’s executive order stipulates that utilities cannot assess late fees on past due amounts from March 16 through the end of this year.

More information about Healthy at Home eligibility is available by phoning 800-456-3452 or by visiting https://www.capky.org/.

Resources that offer utility assistance in Jessamine County include the following:

• Blue Grass Community Action, 302 Southview Drive, Nicholasville, KY 4-0356. Call 859-885-3512 or 1-800-456-6571 or visit bluegrasscommunityaction.org.

• Team Kentucky Fund – https://teamkyfund.ky.gov/

• United Way – https://www.uwky.org/211

• Catholic Charities Diocese of Lexington – https://www.catholiccharitieslexington.org/rentandutilityassistance.html

• Kentucky Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) –https://chfs.ky.gov/agencies/dcbs/dfs/pdb/Pages/liheap.aspx

• Federal Emergency Management Agency Individuals and Households Assistance Program; and the Kentucky American Water program named H20 – https://www.dollarenerg

• Salvation Army Central Kentucky – https://webmanager.salvationarmy.org/southwest-ohio/centralkentucky/rent–utility-assistance

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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