July 28, 2014 3:07:50 PM
Columbus Light and Water will take customers who owe more than $500 in delinquent payments to Justice Court.
For the current fiscal year, the board has written off $90,243.95 in bad debt from commercial and residential customers. CL&W General Manager Todd Gale said that's almost double the $46,000 amount from last year.
All customers who owe money to the utility company have been turned over to CL&W's collection agency, but the board wanted to go a step further with the most flagrant offenders, Gale said.
Delinquent customers wanting to avoid going to court can contact CL&W for payment, Gale said. Collection fees are added to existing balances.
Last year, CL&W spent $800 in advertising to publish the names of everyone who owed money and offered them amnesty if they would pay what they owed. They only received $500 from those accounts, Gale said.
Gale informed board members Thursday that rates from Tennessee Valley Authority, which supplies CL&W the power it distributes to customers, were trending up. The recent closure of Omnova, Sanderson Plumbing and KiOR has also hurt sales.
Between those two factors and capital improvement expenditures, CL&W is struggling right now to keep what TVA wants it to keep in reserves, which is about two months' worth of TVA invoices. The average TVA bill over the past year is $2.75 million a month, Gale said, meaning CL&W needs $5.5 million in reserves for emergencies and storms. The electric general operation fund is about $8 million, he said. About $2.5 million is in deposits and another $2.5 million toward capital improvements over several years, $1.1 million of which is being funded by existing reserves, so only $3 million is actually unencumbered.
"Two or three people that I've seen in public have asked me what we're going to do with all this money in reserve," he said. "I'm not painting a doom-and-gloom picture here, but if anything, we're low when it comes to reserves. I'm not saying, by any means, that we're in financial trouble, but everybody needs to understand where we are. We need to be very frugal."
The water side of the department has $2.3 million for general operations and $1.1 million in reserve, which Gale said was healthy, but also noted money could be spent more quickly for capital improvements in water than electric.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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