Rock Hill considers changes to utility billing policy

adouglas@heraldonline.comDecember 8, 2012 

  • Rock Hill’s proposed utility changes The city council meets at 5:30 p.m., Monday at City Hall to consider changing the city’s utility bill adjustments policy. Residents can speak during the “Citizens Hearing” portion of the meeting. If approved, the policy for refunds for overcharges would be three years. In cases where a customer owed money, the new policy would allow the city to collect on three years worth of billing errors.

The Rock Hill City Council will consider Monday whether to change the city’s policy on refunding utility customers when they’ve been overcharged.

The proposed change comes after the city’s discovery it overcharged one industrial customer about $800,000 for several years of electric service.

City officials are refusing to identify the customer involved and the exact amount the company was overcharged, citing privacy concerns.

City council members voted unanimously at their last meeting in November to restrict the city’s liability to three years in cases of overcharging and increase residential customers’ liability to three years if they have been undercharged and owe the city money. If approved Monday the policy would take effect immediately.

City staff has said the change is designed make the city’s policy agree with with state statute of limitations for refunding customers and collecting on undercharges.

Municipal utility services such as Rock Hill’s utility department are allowed to set their own refund policies in South Carolina. State laws regulates investor-owned electricity providers such as Duke Energy.

The new policy in Rock Hill on collecting initial undercharges would differ from state policy governing for-profit providers.

State law allows for-profit electricity providers to collect money owed due to billing mistakes dating back up to six months or one year, depending on the amount of electricity used by the customer. Larger consumers are responsible for paying back no more than one year of undercharges under state law.

Rock Hill’s current policy is similar to those state guidelines for collecting on money owed.

If approved Monday, the city’s new policy would allow the city to collect on undercharges dating back to three years.

Rock Hill’s move to follow parts of state rules is voluntarily and “proactive,” said Eric Budds, deputy executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina. The association assists municipalities by offering ways to be more efficient and effective.

All of the state's 21 municipal electric utility companies belong to the South Carolina Association of Municipal Power Systems. Policies for refunds and collecting on undercharges vary across the state’s city-run electricity services and electric cooperatives.

Lynches River Electric Cooperative serves customers in Chesterfield, Kershaw and Lancaster counties. The cooperative does not have a written policy on bill adjustments or refunds, said Leigh Smith, Lynches River communications coordinator.

Fairfield Electric Cooperative also does not have a written policy pertaining to bill adjustments, said Doug Payne, vice president of member services. The cooperative is a not-for-profit, member-owned electricity provider for five S.C. counties, including parts of York and Chester Counties.

Lynches River and Fairfield Electric officials say they follow state guidelines and statute of limitations for issuing bill adjustments.

York Electric Cooperative also follows state statute of limitations with three years being the “minimum” for a customer to be reimbursed, said Marc Howie, vice president of community development.

Anna Douglas 803-329-4068

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