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Utility companies see rise in past-due accounts
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Local utility companies say they are disconnecting more customers this year because of nonpayment.

Georgia Power saw an 11 percent increase in the number of customers it disconnected between January and September this year compared to the same period last year, the company’s spokeswoman Carol Boatright said.

Sawnee Electric Membership Corp., which serves parts of seven North Georgia counties, has seen a similar increase in nonpayment disconnections.

The company suspended the service of 11.8 percent more customers between July 2007 and August 2008, according to Cindy Badgett, director of external affairs for Sawnee.

Boatright said the increase in disconnections comes solely from Georgia Power’s residential customer base — not its commercial or industrial customers.

While Boatright would not speculate on why more Georgia Power customers are having trouble paying their bills this year, the company has had two separate rate increases since January to cover rising coal and infrastructure costs.

Together, the rate increases would amount to an extra $8.17 monthly for a customer who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, Boatright said.

Yet, Jackson EMC, which has not had a rate increase since June 2006, also is noticing a rise in the number of customers who do not pay their bills in time, says Bonnie Jones, director of public relations and communications for Jackson EMC.

The company’s customer service and financial departments noticed a rise in nonpayment disconnections in the last six to 12 months, Jones said, although she could not say how many more of Jackson EMC’s customers have been disconnected because of nonpayment.

Representatives from all three utility companies say that it is more costly for customers to let their bills go unpaid than to work out a payment arrangement with their customer service departments.

Jackson EMC customers face fees for both having their service disconnected and having it restored that, combined, start at $60, Jones said.

Sawnee EMC customers also must pay both disconnection and reconnection fees that vary depending on account types, Badgett said.

Georgia Power customers must pay a $50 disconnection fee, Boatright said.

Customers with financial hardships can contact local agencies that have funds to help people with their utility bills, Boatright said.

Many times, Georgia Power, Sawnee and Jackson EMC will refer Hall County customers to Ninth District Opportunity Inc., the St. Vincent De Paul Society at St. Michael Catholic Church and the Salvation Army for emergency utility bill assistance when those agencies have funds available, Boatright said.