PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Public Utility District will refund residential customer deposits in the form of utility bill credits.
PUD commissioners voted Tuesday for the one-time refund to ease the burden of those impacted financially by COVID-19.
The PUD collects deposits from new electric customers who have medium to poor credit, no credit, or who do not want a credit check performed, said General Manager Kevin Streett.
Depending on the customer’s credit score, a deposit of $100 or $200 is collected at the time the account is created. Deposits are generally refunded a year later if the customer shows prompt payment of all bills during that period.
“Technically it’s the customer’s money,” Streett said. “The PUD is just holding it. Crediting the deposits during these hard times helps those who are behind get caught up, or it allows customers who’ve kept up with their bills to put their money towards other needs.”
Deposit credits will appear on customers’ bills in June, Streett said.
“It’s an innovative option to give some customers their money back when they could really use it,” said District 3 Commissioner Dan Toepper.
Commissioners also are discussing a temporary suspension of the collection of new deposits for a two-month period.
“We do think that, for the next month or two months, we should not take deposits [from new customers],” Streett told commissioners.
“It may make it a little easier with people moving around. I do know right now some people are having to move into different places because of the hard times they’re facing.
“Again we’re trying to help those in the community, and it’s not a lot, but it’s something we can do and I feel we should do,” Streett said.
In March, the PUD declared an emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The commissioners suspended late fees and halted all service disconnects due to non-payment.
Customer Service Manager Jean Hall said her team has been working with customers to establish payment plans for those who are not able to pay their bills in full.
Hall reported that participation in the PUD’s low-income program was at an all-time high with 719 qualifying customers currently receiving a monthly low-income credit of $39.50 toward their electric bill, and $10 toward water or wastewater.
Hall also said customer support of the PUD’s Rainy Day fund had increased by more than 250 percent in April.
Customers support the Rainy Day fund through donations included with their bills. The money is then distributed to Olympic Community Action Programs and St. Vincent DePaul to help at-risk residents maintain essential utility services.
Rainy Day donations to date total more than $17,000, Hall said. In 2020, the PUD had budgeted $450,000 to assist low-income customers.
Due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, Hall expects the program will exceed its budget and may need to be amended by the commission in the fall.