Metropolis residents may soon have the same opportunity if the Metropolis City Council passes a budget billing plan at its Sept. 26 regular meeting.
The council has been working to make budget billing a reality since 2010 after receiving several complaints after that summer's high electric bills.
Making sure the program works correctly has been a process in itself, with Midnight, a member of the city council who requested the program, being its guinea pig. Now, with all the particulars worked out, the item is ready for council vote.
The plan will be applied to electric bills, as electricity is the only city utility that is metered. Similar to Atmos' natural gas budget billing, the process takes the current 12-month average of the resident's electric billing, adjusting it monthly to avoid a large accumulation of money owed at year's end. Through the average, large peaks and valleys in electrical payments are avoided. Each month, the bill will be recalculated adding the new month's bill and deleting the oldest month so it will always be the average of the current 12 months.
Residents have to request the process through the clerk's office. They also have to fall within the program's guidelines:
• The residential customer must come to the City Clerk's office and complete a contract application form. The account will be placed on the plan the following month.
• The residential customer must have lived at the same address for at least 12 months.
• The residential customer must have a good credit history with the city. Residents who currently have a payment arrangement with the city cannot participate until the bill is paid in full and budget billing program requirements are met.
• Residential customers will be removed from the program if they are late more than twice in a 12-month period or have a check returned for insufficient funds. Citizens who become delinquent will be billed as normal.
• A residential customer choosing to be removed from the program must come in to sign a request form. Once removed, the customer cannot be put back on the program — this eliminates anyone trying to be put on the program for the winter and then taken off for the rest of the year and vice versa.
• In the event of removal from the budget billing program, the customer agrees to pay the difference. If a credit is due, it will be reflected on the next billing or on the final bill.
"The big thing is we want people to prejudge," Midnight said of the first step customers should take before applying for the program. "They need to ask themselves: 'Do I qualify for this plan?' If you don't, please don't come in and try to apply because you're going to be told no. And secondly, know what to expect" as the idea of the program is to pay the monthly average, not the actual cost, of the electric bill.
After being part of the budget billing plan's test run for almost a year, Midnight has found it beneficial.
"We really benefit from the fact my wife knows it's going to be between $180 and $190," he said. "The idea is that my bill has stayed in the $180s the entire year. In June, I had a bill for $135 but paid $187, so I paid a lot of money but when it came to July, I had $234 bill and only paid $186."
And while that difference between the actual bill cost and what is being paid goes into an escrow account for future costs, Midnight noted it might cause concerns for many.
"Our biggest concern is when people hear budget billing they don't grasp they may have $120 bill but are paying $190. The idea you're going to pay at a reasonably level amount means in the winter time you're going to pay more and in the summer time you're going to pay less. Those we talked to in Flora said initially people would comment that the city is taking a lot of their money but by the end of the summer they're always glad and after a year they've had nobody complaining.
"If people are paying attention, it's a good idea. It's all going to be the same amount of money, it's just going to be spread out differently," Midnight said. "Everybody was complaining a year ago about how high their bills were. This is just to help the people with their payments."
Midnight said in comparing his winter 2010 bills to 2011, the cost pattern was the same. "It works and we're real happy with it because it's been consistent with it. We do the same thing with our gas bill. It really makes it easy when you're on a fixed income to manage your bills, is what it amounts to," he said.
At press time, a vote on the budget billing plan was scheduled to be on the council's Sept. 26 meeting agenda.
Midnight noted if it is approved, those who believe they qualify can begin the application process as soon as Tuesday and the plan should begin with their next billing cycle.
If the plan is voted for Monday night, it will only be open to residential customers. Midnight said it may become an option for commercial customers at a later time.