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MED customer addresses electric bill issues at board meeting

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MASSENA - Massena Electric Department customer Janet Arquitt publicly displayed her concerns with her most recent skyrocketing electric bill by way of a recent newspaper letter to the editor.

Thursday afternoon, she came face to face with the MED board, not to feud, but to simply get an explanation.

“My highest bill I think I’ve ever had at Massena Electric was $199 and (the bill) two months ago, I haven’t paid it on purpose. So I am going to incur a late fee. I believe it is the first one I would ever receive and probably the last. My bill two months ago was $275. I have lived in the Norfolk area on National Grid, Niagara Mohawk, and my bill didn’t ever run that high,” Ms. Arquitt said.

“I know that the weather has been colder. Don’t get me wrong, we live in the north country and we’re used to this. But the price, I just thought was extreme. ... For it to triple in price, it was just of great concern to me,” she said.

In her letter to the editor, Ms. Arquitt noted that she had talked with many of her friends about their bills and “it seemed as though every single one has inclined by $100 or more.”

After calling and talking with a MED representative on the phone and feeling that she was not making any progress, Ms. Arquitt said that she went the route of social media to bring about her worries.

“I then posted a little message on Facebook asking if other MED customers also saw an increase in their bills and the response was incredible. Some of the folks stated their bill went from $98 to over $400. Another response I received was from a customer who stated that she had three extra people in her home the month before and an extra heater going and her bill was $100 less than this month,” her letter read.

She asked others to attend this week’s meeting “to get some answers that we deserve.”

MED Deputy Supervisor Dale F. Raymo pointed out that Ms. Arquitt was using approximately 1,000 kilowatt hours (KW) more than she did at this point last year, partially contributing to the large hike in price.

MED Treasurer Jeffrey M. Dobbins also said that the bills that customers receive are not necessarily on a calendar month basis, sometimes skewing the numbers.

“We have four different read dates, so it’s not necessarily on a calendar month. We do have our first two billing cycles, which are the town of Massena and parts of the village of Massena. That’s the village of Massena that goes from Main Street, out Andrews Street to Dover (Street) - because once we get to the town of Louisville that’s a different territory. That’s right on the tip of the second day of the month,” he said.

“From Douglas Road over towards Route 37, all that isn’t read until usually the eighth of ninth,” Mr. Dobbins said. “So it’s not truly a month to month thing. So when you look at a calendar month, it’s not always the same as your billing month.”

“But my bill this time was around $75 less and I’ve done absolutely nothing different for four years,” she responded.

Mr. Dobbins noted that given her Parker Avenue address, she falls into cycle three. That means her data is taken on the eighth or ninth of the month.

Ms. Arquitt asked the board, given the large response she received from people in her shoes, what people could do to help conserve their energy usage and possibly affect their bills in the future.

“It’s causing a hardship on a lot of people and I’m sure that you guys are well aware of that. ... Is there anything you can do like National Grid is going for their customers?” she asked.

“The National Grid thing is a little bit of a trick. What they’re doing is billing the people and then adding an interest rate,” Board Chairman James Shaw said. “So they basically say, ‘Ok, we’ll reduce your bill by $100 and you’re going to pay it all over so many months.’ You’re going to pay $100 plus interest. So people aren’t being told (everything).”

“But they’re not being charged at this time either. Winter months are the toughest for most people. They’re delaying them until spring when heating prices will be down and laundry prices will be down,” Ms. Arquitt responded.

Mr. Dobbins added that while the prices will be down during the warmer months, there is a catch.

“They are going to be down, but it’s also going to be spread over a different set of customer class though too. It’s being spread over your summer air conditioning load and potentially even customers that aren’t even in the service territory would be paying for those charges,” he explained.

Backing up the fact that MED’s electric bills are on atypical monthly cycles, Ms. Arquitt’s statement in question was dated from Dec. 9 through Jan. 8.

MED Deputy Treasurer Lori Pryce said that steps can be taken to assist customers in similar situations to Ms. Arquitt.

“We’re more than willing to work with anyone who wants to come down and make payment arrangements. We put them on a budget, anything to help them catch up so they don’t have to pay (the amount) this month. For that, we don’t charge the (late fee,)” Ms. Pryce said. “So we get them on a deferred payment agreement and as long as they keep that, that helps them get caught up into the summer once things start to go down.”

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