10% utility late fee proposed in Benton

BENTON, AR – Relief could be in sight for several Benton business hit with thousands of dollars in deposit fees for late water and electricity payments.

Wednesday night, Benton’s Public Utility Commission voted to make changes to a 2010 law which allows the city to hit businesses with late fees in the form of additional deposits, costing companies thousands of dollars they may never see again.

Benton owns its utility services, so when people don’t pay their bills, it hurts city finances. But, the problem is that many Benton businesses are still recovering from the recession.

“When we did the Clinton Presidential Library, we had 90 employees. We went from there to about 40. We now have about 20, and we’re gonna have to lay off a couple more tomorrow,” says Arkansas Granite and More’s Bobby McElroy.

So, when McElroy got behind on bills, and Benton hit him with a $2,800 additional deposit fee to keep the lights on and water running at his business, it hit his bottom line.

“I understand their problem. I really do. I just wanted to point out some of our problems, and I think they listened and responded appropriately,” he says.

McElroy isn’t alone. FOX16’s Kelly Dudzik also spoke with Lisa Spencer, who owns Lisa’s Bait Shop. Benton wanted her to pay a $900 additional deposit.

Spencer isn’t just upset about that deposit fee, she’s also furious about construction near her shop, and she says it might force her to take her business elsewhere after more than twenty years.

But, because business leaders spoke out, the city committees voted to recommend Benton City Council change the law. Instead of paying additional deposits, both residential and commercial customers would pay a flat ten-percent late fee on utility bills.

That’s something McElroy can get behind.

“My electricity bill is usually about $3,000 a month. So, that’ll be a little high, but we’ll just try to make sure we pay it on time,” he says.

Right now, the Benton City Attorney is going over the proposal to make sure it is legal. Once it gets his approval, it will go to the full city council for a vote. If the council approves the changes, the businesses should just have to pay the ten-percent penalty. If you don’t pay up, service eventually gets shut off.

You will still have to pay an initial deposit. It’s one-hundred dollars for residential customers with good credit. Water fees depend on the size of your meter.

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