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Norwich utility customers continue to struggle; shutoff moratorium extended

Norwich — Norwich Public Utilities will extend the moratorium on service shutoffs through Oct. 1, with 3,542 customers owing more than $1.5 million in past due payments and many not able to meet payment plans.

The Board of Public Utilities Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to extend the shutoff deadline to Oct. 1 for all customers and to re-evaluate that date at the time. The new date is just one month before the mandatory winter season moratorium on power shutoffs starts Nov. 1. The previous moratorium deadline on shutoffs was Aug. 1 for commercial customers and Sept. 9 for residential customers.

NPU General Manager Chris LaRose told the board that both residential and commercial customers continue to struggle financially, even after some businesses reopened. Jeff Brining, NPU customer service division manager, said shutting off restaurants in arrears would be especially devastating.

As of last Friday, 3,542 NPU customers — 18% of the total 19,596 customers — were behind on payments totaling a combined $1.5 million. Most of them, 3,327, are residential customers. NPU has been encouraging customers to make special payment arrangements to keep the overdue payments as low as possible. Thus far, 775 customers agreed to plans for $1.2 million in overdue payments.

But Brining said many of those with payment plans have been unable to keep to the agreements. NPU has adjusted some agreements, but in all cases, the final due date for all back bills is June 2022.

The vote to extend the moratorium came after the board heard the monthly staff update on the impacts of COVID-19 on NPU revenues, utility usage and customer payments. Using actual expenses and revenues through July 31 and projections for August, September and October, NPU officials presented revenue and expense estimates through Oct. 31.

Budgeted revenue during the three-month period totaled $22.2 million, but the new projection estimated the three-month revenues at $19.9 million, a 10.3% drop. The anticipated cash balance on Oct. 31 is projected at $38.5 million, down by $951,000, or 2.4%, from the budgeted figures.

Laura Huren, NPU financial planning manager, said NPU’s projected cut in expenses to meet the revenue losses did not include the costs of recovering from Tropical Storm Isaias. The projections estimated expense cuts at $905,000 per month, including decreasing overtime use by 91% and leaving most vacant positions unfilled.

NPU employees also agreed early in the COVID-19 emergency to defer raises until December.

“We have managed to reduce expenses significantly to offset the negative overall impacts,” Huren said. “Payments are still challenging. There are still challenges all around.”


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