Laurinburg to reevaluate electric bills for Housing Authority tenants

LAURINBURG — Based on planned change in the way Laurinburg does business with tenants of the Laurinburg Housing Authority, the city may reconsider its electric service connection policies.

The Laurinburg City Council will hear from Housing Authority Executive Director Nancy Walker next Tuesday about the housing authority’s plan to make each tenant responsible for electric costs.

Housing authorities across the county are moving to make their tenant responsible for their own utility bills, saying ti will make them more responsible to save energy, but others argue it will cost tenants more money.

Currently, though each housing unit has its own meter, the city bills the Housing Authority, which remits payment for all tenants’ electric use.

“From our standpoint, with an already overworked light and water department, this is going to be 500 or 550 new customers to collect and more work to do,” said City Manager Charles Nichols. “From our viewpoint it wasn’t anything we wanted, but it’s the housing authority’s right to require them to do that.”

For new electric customers, the city requires a $240 standard deposit. Cit officials expressed concern that housing authority tenants who may have delinquent utilities accounts linked to prior residences will have to settle those before open new accounts.

“They could have a month of electricity and not pay it at the start of the next month,” Nichols said. “Before we cut it off it could be a month and a half of services they’ve gotten and then they don’t pay it and move on. So that policy just safeguards the city.”

Council member J.D. Willis predicted that the change will bring appeals from housing authority tenants with long-overdue accounts or who are simply unable to furnish the required deposit.

“Has any contingency or start up money been set aside to help these individuals that might owe some back bills five, 10, 15 years ago? If they don’t pay, according to what I’m hearing, then they don’t receive electricity.”

Mayor Matthew Block suggested obtaining a master list of housing authority tenants so the city can determine how many have delinquent accounts. He also supported considering those in the housing authority a “special case” regarding deposits as they already receive electricity from the city.

“It’s not like the general population just signing up for electricity,” he said. “Most of them already have a history, they’re there, it’s a special case, they’re obviously of limited funds or they wouldn’t be in the housing authority.”

Council member Mary Jo Adams pointed out that public housing is not the only place where Laurinburg residents are struggling with their bills.

“Since we’re talking about looking at the policy, we do need to very carefully look at that because there are other situations in this town,” she said.

“If we waiver for them, then what happens with the other people that come up?” Willis said. “That’s just something that we’re going to have to develop a new policy to move forward.”

Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.

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