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Plattsburgh Officials Discuss Implications Of Utility Shutoffs Post-COVID

Plattsburgh City Hall (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Plattsburgh City Hall (file)

During a regular financial report Thursday, the head of Plattsburgh’s Municipal Lighting Department updated city leaders on shutoffs now occurring in the aftermath of COVID-19 and new fees that are expected to be added to utility bills.

The Board of the Plattsburgh Municipal Lighting Department is composed of all common councilors and the mayor.  During his regular finance and departmental report MLD Manager William Treacy said June revenues exceeded expenses, an improvement over last year.  

He also explained that on June 24 Governor Andrew Cuomo ended his COVID moratorium on utility shutoffs and subsequently the city electric utility started shutting off power to customers in arrears about two weeks ago. But he added the state legislature passed a 180-day grace period that allows customers until December 21st to settle their bills. 

“If they get shut off they have basically three options," Tracey said. "Pay their bill. They can do a self-certification that COVID-19 was a problem. If they do that we have to turn them back on and we cannot turn them off until December 22nd. However they can get penalties and late fees attached to their bills during that time frame. The third option is to do a deferred payment plan.”

Mayor Chris Rosenquest is an MLD board director and quizzed Tracey about the fiscal ramifications.  “How much are we talking about in terms of the deficit or the back payments?" Rosenquest asked.
“Well it depends," Tracey responded. "There’s some that owe a couple of hundred. There’s some that owe $10,000. There’s at least one landlord that’s up in the 10,000 category. But they’re promising to get it down here in the next two months.”
“And the second question is are the people that are the most impacted, maybe not the landlords but the tenants who are really struggling, how are they being made aware of these programs that can help them?” Rosenquest replied. 
“The HEAP people have been notifying their people," Tracey answered. "We also sent notifications out in the last billing.”  

Tracey said the federal government has extended the HEAP, or Home Energy Assistance Program, to the end of August and people can apply for an emergency allotment of $490. Director Elizabeth Gibbs was curious about the timeframe for assistance. 

“So individuals who qualified for HEAP but never took advantage of it, can it all be done retroactively for them?” Gibbs asked. 
“They need to get it now," Tracey said. "It ends on 31 August and then there’s a 10-week hiatus before the next program starts again for the 2021 to 2022 season which will begin about the second week in November.”

Tracey also made city leaders aware of anticipated additional zero emission and renewal energy credit fees known as RECS and ZECS. 

“What it is is for the state to collect supplemental funds to help renewable energy projects," Tracey said. "Next month we’re getting additional RECS added onto our bills. So, so far this year we’ve paid $1,172,394. We will probably be close to 3 million by the end of the year. And it gets added on to everybody’s bill.”
“And every utility in the state pays that?” asked Director Mike Kelly. 
“That is correct," Tracey answered.