After almost three months of protection from utility disconnection during the coronavirus pandemic, Colorado residents may again have their lights shut off for nonpayment.
The state moratorium on utility disconnections expired Monday, leaving it in the hands of local utility providers to decide if they should restart disconnecting customers. However, utility customers will not face reconnection or late fees until July 12, under Colorado Gov. Jared Polis' order.
Some Pikes Peak-region providers — including Colorado Springs Utilities and Mountain View Electric Association, which serves portions of western, northern and southern El Paso County — are granting customers additional grace from disconnections. Neither utility has determined when it will restart disconnections, representatives of both utility providers said.
The city of Fountain is among those restarting disconnections for nonpayment after making a more-concerted-than-normal effort to reach customers, including leaving door hangers on residences, Utilities Director Dan Blankenship said. The city shut off utilities for 80 customers Tuesday and 42 Thursday, he said. However, of the 80 customers shut off Monday, only seven remained shut off as of Thursday, he said.
In some of these cases, residents have moved and never contacted the utility about their departure, he said.
"When someone doesn’t pay, that puts burden on the rest of the customer group to cover that cost," Blankenship said.
The number of disconnections for this time of year was up just slightly from about 100 to 122, he said.
"Our customers have been really very diligent in paying their bills," he said.
The city of Manitou Springs will be starting water disconnections again on Monday, said Alex Trefry, a spokesman for the city.
All four utilities are working with customers struggling to pay bills. About 110 Fountain customers have received $58,500 in utility assistance since March, Blankenship said.
While the aid might seem like a substantial amount of money per customer, many residents in need of assistance get several months behind on payment and this spring they would have fallen behind at a time when they were at home using their utilities more, said Erin Garcia, a spokeswoman for the utility.
"You are compounding two to three months of much higher bills," she said.
More than 2,100 Colorado Springs Utilities customers have received about $655,000 in aid from March through May, said Mark Murphy, a spokesman for utilities. About $160,000 of it came from donations from other customers and helped 690 people who did not qualify for federal aid, he said. Colorado Springs Utilities has also set up 5,793 payment plans for customers since March, he said.
The city of Manitou Springs provided $5,590 in financial assistance by waiving fees from March through May, Trefry said. The city also assisted 40 customers by sparing them from shutoff or setting up payment plans, he said.
Colorado Springs Utilities customers can learn about assistance with bill payments by calling (719) 448-4800.
City of Fountain customers seeking payment assistance can visit FountainUtilities.org; call the Salvation Army of the Fountain Valley at (719) 382-1182; or call REACH Pikes Peak at (719) 382-8515.
Manitou Springs customers should call Westside Cares at (719) 389-0759 or the city for utilities assistance.
Customers who cannot reach an agreement with their utility provider on a payment plan may contact the Colorado Public Utilities consumer affairs unit for assistance at (303) 894-2070 or file a complaint via the organization's website.