Tribune-Courier News Reporter
An unusually harsh and at times bitterly cold winter has left many receiving shocking electric and natural gas bills. Many residential customers across the county are wondering how they are going to afford to stay connected.
Alieta Barnes, outreach social worker at West Kentucky Allied Services, in Benton, said she has been receiving 10 to 15 calls per day requesting financial assistance in regard to high utility bills, but the money at WKAS has already been spent.
Barnes said in 2013 the money lasted until the last day of February, but this year it didn’t even last until the middle of the month.
“This has been one of the worst winters we’ve had,” she said. “We’ve already run out of our LIHEAP funding and once it’s gone it’s gone – we don’t get any more. We do have some funding, but it’s not enough to take care of everyone’s needs. We get some people with bills between $600 and $1,000. We could never take care of something like that.”
“There’s a huge need in Marshall County and some people just simply won’t be able to pay their bills,” she said. “There are people who are relying on us yearly and I don’t know where to start.”
Barnes said she will be hosting a meeting to assess the needs of the county soon. The meeting is tentatively set for March 10 at 10 a.m. at the Marshall County Court house.
Barnes said she has been working with clients to set up payment plans with their utility companies, but some of the companies are unwilling to work with their patrons.
The Kentucky Public Service Commission has been spearheading a similar effort.
On Feb. 24, the PSC sent a letter to the chief executives of the utilities requesting they extend payment plans and provide budget-billing programs in order to help their customers who are having difficulty paying large heating bills in the wake of cold winter weather.
In the letter, the PSC asks that the utilities, “be as flexible as possible ... in avoiding disconnections and in allowing customers to make arrangements to extend their payments. We know that utilities in Kentucky are sensitive to the fact that these are very large bills have come as a shock to many customers.”
Connie Price, 53, of Sharpe, said her electric bill was $191, which is $50 more than she usually pays during the winter months.
“I know it’s been an extremely cold winter, but I’ve been keeping the thermostat on 65 degrees – it’s not like I jack it up to 85,” she said. “The most I ever put it on is 67 and that’s when I’m here and it’s an really cold out. Really I use less electricity than the average person. I sit in the dark mostly and only use the TV a few hours per day so the only way it makes since for my bill to be so high is for the electric rates to have gone up.”
Price said she and everyone she knows was ready for spring and warmer weather to arrive because she’s sick of the cold weather.
“My house has one bedroom and it’s insulated well, but when the temperature never gets above freezing it’s hard to keep your house warm,” she said. “It’s a small place that suits my needs, and it’s unfortunate that the weather has been so terrible that I have to pay so much to keep warm.”