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Aldermen work out details of increasing utility deposits


Tim Pratt



STARKVILLE -- Newcomers to Starkville could soon have to pay a bit more when setting up electric and other utilities in their homes. 


The Starkville Electric Department and the city''s Board of Aldermen are working on a proposal which would increase the deposit new customers must pay when setting up their accounts. 


As it stands, new home owners have to pay a $65 deposit to Starkville Electric, with $30 going toward electricity and $35 toward water. New renters, on the other hand, have to pay a $165 deposit, with $130 going toward electric and $35 toward water. 


The new proposal, which is still in the planning stages, would not differentiate between new renters and homeowners. 


Instead, the Electric Department would use an online service to check a potential customer''s utility credit history, which would tell whether the person has had utility service shut off elsewhere, had trouble paying their bill, or if they skipped out of a utility bill in some other town. 


The online service then would give the potential customer a grade -- either red, yellow or green -- which would determine how much of a risk he or she is to leave town without paying a bill. 


Customers who don''t have a bad credit history would be given a "green" grade, and the Electric Department would require a $150 deposit to set up service. 


If a customer has had some problems paying bills in the past, but is still considered a "minimal" risk to leave town without paying their final utility bill, he or she would be required to pay a $200 deposit and would be in the "yellow category." 


Customers in the "red" category would be considered a high risk, and would be required to pay a $250 deposit. 


The Electric Department is proposing the new deposit policy because of the high number of renters and Mississippi State University students who leave town without paying their final utility bill or two, SED General Manager Edd Hattaway said. 


From Jan. 1, 2007, to April 30, 2009, the Electric Department accrued $203,201 in unpaid bills. Many of the bills belong to MSU students who leave town, though some are a result of foreclosures and deaths, Hattaway said. 


The increased deposits would help combat the problem, said Ward 3 Alderman and infrastructure committee member P.C. "Mac" McLaurin. 


"The Electric Department is losing money," McLaurin said. "Something is going to have to be done with the deposit situation to neutralize the red ink situation." 


The city''s infrastructure committee and the Electric Department plan to continue working on the new policy. 


McLaurin hopes to have a recommendation for his fellow Board of Aldermen members at their next meeting, scheduled for June 23 at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.




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