With a promise to become a city showing "more heart" to its utility customers, Murray's power department will change its policy to prohibit cutting off delinquent accounts entirely during cold winter months.
Echoing the now-famous words of President Bush, City Council members and utility officials agreed Tuesday to become a "kinder, gentler" city. The power company will renew its contract with Utah's state relief program, Home Energy Assistance Target, to help the needy pay winter bills.Murray canceled its contract with the federally funded program during the winter of 1987.
Murray City will maintain its policy of terminating service if the customer is more than 60 days past due. But beginning next winter, between Nov. 15 and March 15 of each year, a limiter will be placed on the meters of delinquent customers that will allow the ratepayer enough power to run a furnace and a few lights.
Joe Duke-Rosati, low-income advocate with the Salt Lake Community Action Program, has criticized Murray's policy because it "discriminated against citizens who should have been afforded the same protections as other Utahns." He is pleased Murray has changed its "self-defeating" policy.
"Many ratepayers suffered, and Murray City suffered because they lost money and were exposed to bad publicity," said Duke-Rosati.
The policy was discriminatory because residents living across the street from each other were afforded different utility protections. The neighbor receiving power from Murray City Power would be cut off while the neighbor across the street receiving Utah Power & Light power qualified for assistance through HEAT, he said.
Many young families were forced to temporarily move or live without heat in sub-zero conditions this winter. "It's been a ridiculous situation, and I'm glad it's been solved," said Duke-Rosati.
Three other programs will be developed before next winter to assist those who have difficulty paying utility bills during bitterly cold months:
-Security deposits will be waived if the customer can show a 12-month good-payment history.
-Energy Conservation Manager Elizabeth McAndrews will become more involved in helping delinquent ratepayers through counseling. She will show customers how to adapt their lifestyles to reduce power bills.
-A hearing could be held for an individual to dispute his power bill before power was turned off. A pool of independent, third-party persons could serve on the hearing board, selected from the Murray citizenry.
A memo from the Power Advisory Board to City Council Chairman Norman Nielsen says, "We feel it extremely important that if we are again approached by the news media concerning our utility procedures, that we can refer to several programs that Murray City has available for the truly needy. . . . With this checklist of programs, it would be very difficult for a news organization to paint a negative picture of Murray City and the way we treat our ratepayers."