PENINSULA - The policies and motives of the Public Utilities District 2 have long been hot topics discussed both privately and publicly. Many people have assumptions as to what the policies are when it comes to deposits and paying bills, but do they actually know? The only way to find out is to go to the source.
"There's good reason we have the policies that we do," said customer services manager Jim Dolan on Monday.
Dolan laid out some facts regarding PUD policies, stating that the power company is not out to get every last dime from its customers but does have to protect itself when it comes to those customers who skip out on bills.
Currently, Dolan said, only 6 percent of all PUD2 customers have a deposit with them. That means of the 16,064 customers that PUD2 has in the Pacific and Wahkiakum County areas, only 977 currently have money on deposit.
But doesn't everybody have to give a deposit when they sign up for service? Not necessarily.
Any new customer can come to the PUD with a letter of good credit from their previous utility company and not have to pay a deposit. A new customer could also have a guarantor with good credit to vouch for that person and not be required to give a deposit. Dolan said many utility companies in Washington, Idaho and Oregon are currently requiring that all customers give deposits to begin service.
But why do they need the money? Because in the last 10 years the PUD2 has had write-offs of $75,000 to $90,000 in a single year due to people who left town or their residence without paying their bill.
"That's money that has to be paid by somebody," said Dolan.
Since cracking down in the last few years, the PUD2 has been able to reduce that amount to around $25,000 this year.
The PUD uses a simple equation to calculate what a person's deposit is when moving into a new home. They add the two highest bills at the residence over the previous two years. For example, if the two highest bills over that time were $88 and $110, the deposit for someone having the power put in their name without a letter or guarantor of credit would be $198.
Currently, the PUD2 has a total of $294,285.29 in deposits from customers. Dolan explained this money is kept in a non-interest bearing account and is given back to the customer if after two years they have two or less billing indicatory points on their account - two late payments in a two-year period.
"It's not money that we use every day," he said. "It's set aside in a separate account. It's not to our benefit to get all we can from customers."
Dolan went on to explain that the reason that they require full payment on a bill each month is for the same security reasons as the deposits.
"We're not a credit card," he said, "we can't carry accounts month to month."
He did say there are options for people who can't make up that difference all at once. The first is asking for a 15-day extension, which gives the customer an extra two weeks to come up with the bill amount. Dolan said customers also can go on an equal payment plan, which takes the overall billing for a year and divides it by the 12 months of that year, giving an average bill amount each month - that way the bill in the summer is the same as the one in the winter. The sign-up period for this option is in the spring and summer.
He said there are also charitable organizations that will help pay portions of bills for those in need. F.I.S.H. Peninsula Emergency Services is one. The Warm Heart Fund, which people can make donations to on their PUD bill, gives 100 percent of funding to people who are unable to pay their electric bill. Both of these services have criteria to qualify.
"It does break my heart," said Dolan. "You do what you can. You can only do so much for people; at some point they have to do for themselves."
Dolan said there are also programs for elderly and disabled citizens. He said that a letter from the Social Security Department explaining their situation is required. Those who qualify for the program can get up to 40 percent off of their bill, up to a certain dollar amount per year.
The one down side to this program is the fact that a person has to be a PUD customer for one year before they can qualify for the program - not much of a relief to a person in that situation for the first 12 months. But once again, Dolan said it was a matter of protecting themselves.
"Welfare people play the system," said Dolan. "You'd be amazed what people will pull in order to get other people to pay their bills."
At the same time, even though it may not be something they relish doing, Dolan said that those who can't or won't pay their bill will have their power shut off.
"We bend over backwards not to disconnect people," Dolan said. "It's not something that we enjoy doing. We do not want to cut people's power ... sometimes people just can't pay their bills.
"We're not a welfare organization," he said. "Who's going to pay for it? Somebody else has got to pay for that. You and I are paying for that."
Dolan finished by saying he felt that if enough people from the community were to come to the PUD2 commissioner's meetings with a legitimate complaint or reason to change a policy, that the commissioners would listen.