GREG LOWER

Chanute city officials are clearing up more than $37,000 in back utility payments since the state reopened from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Interim City Manager Todd Newman said the city has been able to disconnect customers since restrictions were lifted June 1. Finance Director Cory Kepley said that as of May 29, 74 people were on the city’s shut-off list owing a total of $37,816.

He said the number of people who were past due during the COVID-19 shutdown fluctuated, but it was roughly 80 accounts. Names came off the list as customers settled bills, while others were added.

“Some would pay and some would not,” Kepley said.

As of Tuesday, 16 customers owing a total of $5,775 had been shut off, but had not received a final bill. The rest had paid their bills or started payment plans.

Newman said the city offers a 12-month payment plan, but customers must pay the first of the overdue bills up front before they are turned back on.

One customer who owed nearly $1,200 and talked to Chanute Commissioner Phil Chaney said his utilities were cut off, but were restored Tuesday after he started the payment plan and made the first month’s payment.

The customer said he is self-employed in construction, but has been out of work since the shutdown. Three other adults in his household are employed, he said. He said he has not received the federal economic stimulus payment and intended to pay the utilities with it.

Chaney said the commission sets policy that city staff implements, but it would be difficult to handle situations on a case-by-case basis. 

He said there is no leeway set in policy, but Chaney directed the customer to organizations that can assist.

Newman said the utilities are not in the complaining customer’s name and staff is trying to determine who has the liability. He said officials see that a lot with rental properties and they had a name, which was not released, for the service address. The customer said the service is in his wife’s name.

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