Favorite

The deposit dilemma 

NLR Electric policy puts the squeeze on a struggling customer.

click to enlarge BRIAN CHILSON

By his own admission, Sherwood resident William Kendrick has had his lights shut off for non-payment several times in the last three years. Like a lot of people in America, he's having hard times. He bought his house in 2006, but lost his job, and suffers from a chronic illness that has required months of costly treatments. Now he waits tables, has filed for bankruptcy and tries to hold on. Before you judge him too harshly, ask yourself, how many paychecks am I from sitting in the dark?

In a bad spot, Kendrick says the deposit policy of the North Little Rock Electric Department is making things worse. By city ordinance, North Little Rock Electric levies an additional $100 deposit every time it reconnects a customer's lights — quite a bite for someone already struggling to pay his bills. The additional deposit is on top of a $25 dollar reconnection fee ($50 if you want them turned on after hours) and the outstanding balance that's owed. North Little Rock Electric is currently holding $500 of Kendrick's money as deposits.

"I honestly didn't realize exactly what it was until I called them and asked them to explain it to me," he said. "I thought it was just the reconnect fee, but it turns out it's not." Kendrick said the policy doesn't make sense for struggling consumers, especially in a shaky economy.

"I think it's an unjust policy for bad economic times," he said. "If they're already holding a huge amount of my money, and I need $175 to get my electric bill paid or they're going to turn me off, why can't they take that out of these deposits they're already holding? Otherwise, what's the point in taking all these deposits?"

A spokesperson for Entergy Arkansas said that if one of their customers is terminated for non-payment, there is no deposit required if it's the first time in a 12-month period. If service is terminated more than once in a year, each subsequent reconnection requires a $25 deposit.

David Melton, customer service manager for North Little Rock Electric, said that the policy on deposits is determined by city ordinance. He said the electric company can levy a $100 deposit every time a customer's power is shut off, up to an amount equal to twice that customer's highest-ever monthly bill (Kendrick's highest-ever bill was just over $270). The additional deposit is reflected on the next month's bill. Power is shut off 28 days after bills are mailed out, unless the bill is paid or the customer contacts the utility to arrange payment. A technician must physically go to the residence to turn the power on and off. Melton said that if a customer has a "good pay history" for 12 months — meaning, at most, one late payment — their deposits are credited to them with interest.

Asked if it makes sense for North Little Rock Electric to shut off someone's lights for non-payment rather than dipping into the stockpile of the customer's money already on hand, Melton said North Little Rock Electric doesn't have the power to alter the policy. "I'm not the decision maker," he said. "The City Council is the decision maker. I'm required to follow that."

Ward 2 Alderman Maurice Taylor said he's familiar with the North Little Rock Electric deposit policy, and didn't know the utility charged customers who fall behind on their bill an additional $100 deposit every time their lights are turned back on. He said the City Council might need to reexamine the deposit policy, especially given the hard economic times.

"You've got people being laid off, businesses closing and people losing their income stream for one reason or another," he said. "If that [the additional $100 deposit] is the case, then we need to look at reexamining things and maybe mirroring what Entergy does .... Maybe we can do a better job of helping people out."

But Debi Ross, Ward 1 alderman, said that customers who are having problems paying their electric bill can request a free energy audit through North Little Rock Electric, and can apply for financial assistance with their utilities through the Central Arkansas Development Council. She said North Little Rock's deposit ordinance is in place to help protect the city.

"Everyone seems to be having a tough time in one situation or another," Ross said. "But we still have to protect the interests of the whole city, because this affects everybody in the whole city. If we're losing money in one account, it's got to be paid somewhere. I don't want to sound like I'm not compassionate, but we do have to look after the interests of the city."

Favorite

Speaking of North Little Rock Electric Department

Comments (21)

Showing 1-21 of 21

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-21 of 21

Add a comment

More by David Koon

  • Blue smoke

    Since 1983, Little Rock's Nichols & Simpson Organbuilders has built a reputation for uncompromising excellence.
    • Mar 2, 2019
  • It's the Best and Worst 2018

    Our annual salute to weird, worrisome, wonderful Arkansas.
    • Dec 20, 2018
  • Fast forward in Blytheville

    The East Coast Timing Association held its Arkansas 1-Mile Challenge in September, where racers from all over the country mixed gasoline, steel and passion in the pursuit of raw speed.
    • Oct 11, 2018
  • More »

Latest in Arkansas Reporter

  • Lundstrum pushes ahead on efforts to limit minimum wage hike

    Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs), despite opposition from Governor Hutchinson and the state Republican Party, is proceeding with her bills to undo significant portions of the state minimum wage hike approved by voters just last November.
    • Mar 18, 2019
  • Doris Wright has a 'charge to keep' in Ward 6

    Doris Wright, in her 13 years on the city board of directors, has defined herself as a champion of life in West Central Little Rock. She has played a major role in bringing the Central Arkansas Library System’s Sidney S. McMath branch to Ward 6, and with her advocacy, the city built the $6.4 million West Central Community Center and the 25-acre West Central Sports Complex.
    • Mar 4, 2019
  • Young adults ‘aging out’ of Arkansas foster care system struggle to adapt

    Because it’s uncommon for older teenagers in foster care to be adopted, many are emancipated at age 18 or 21 without ever finding a permanent home. In the last state fiscal year, 235 young people “aged out” of the Arkansas system. Too old to be a ward of the state but unprepared to be cast out on their own, they entered adult life highly disadvantaged.
    • Feb 23, 2019
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • Lundstrum pushes ahead on efforts to limit minimum wage hike

    Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs), despite opposition from Governor Hutchinson and the state Republican Party, is proceeding with her bills to undo significant portions of the state minimum wage hike approved by voters just last November.

Most Recent Comments

 

© 2019 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation