The City of Newberry will continue supplying electricity and water service to all residents and businesses even if their accounts have delinquent payments to help during high prices and summer heat.
Newberry announced the change of policy on Wednesday and said it will last for the months of August and September. The policy only applies to accounts with less than $500 in late payments, and the city will also waive recent late fees.
“We’re a publicly owned utility that exists to serve our residents,” Dallas Lee, assistant city manager, said in the press release. “We’re hopeful that these measures will alleviate some of the stress our residents are feeling.”
The city clarified that account holders must pay back the late bills, but customers now have a longer timeframe without worrying about services shutting off.
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said the city commission directed staff to look at opportunities to relieve the pressure after the city used up its rate stabilization fund that helps mitigate costs.
The price of natual gas has tripled in the past year and a hot summer has forced higher energy use, Newberry said in its press release, causing consumers to bear higher bills. Newberry also received a forecast that energy costs would continue to rise for the foreseeable future.
“We’re sort of stuck in the middle as most small towns in America generally find themselves when it comes to national and global issues,” Marlowe said in a phone interview.
Marlowe said keeping the water and electricity running is a small thing but hopes the measure will help families in a pinch. Now families don’t need to choose between keeping the power on or paying for food or some other necessity.
The program will end Sept. 31, and Marlowe said the city would analyze the program’s effectiveness then. But the city will likely create a payment plan to further help residents.
“We’ll work with residents to get them back into the black,” Marlowe said.
Newberry’s press release encouraged customers to consider their energy use and check their usage with the new Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) dashboard that provides real-time usage.
The City of Newberry also offers free in-home energy audits. Residents can request one through the city website or by calling 352-472-2161 ext. 1. An online energy auditing tool, available at www.MyEnergyPlanner.com, also gives ideas on lowering bills.