Alexandria utility customers protest against high bills, disconnects
ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Several Alexandria utility customers gathered Tuesday, Nov. 14, for a peaceful protest calling for more answers as to why their bills have skyrocketed in recent months.
The group gathered in front of the Alexandria Utility Building before walking over to the steps of City Hall. While in front of the utility building, other residents started showing up, claiming they were there to pay to get their utilities turned back on after they were disconnected.
“It’s overwhelming,” said Shauntel Dauzat. “You get turned around, and it gets very frustrating to where I am traumatized over this.”
Dauzat is one of many utility customers who have to reach deep into their pocketbooks to turn their lights back on.
“I can’t afford a $500 utility bill a month,” said Dauzat. “I am a single person. I’m barely making it as it is.”
Dauzat’s bill recently received an increase in its monthly rate after the City of Alexandria started implementing a payment plan to pay off an existing balance on the account. Her concern is that the City of Alexandria did not properly communicate to the customers about when and how those existing balances would have to be paid off.
“They are not explaining the bill of how the charges are, where the charges go, what’s posted and when it’s posted,” said Dauzat. “They are not giving you a chance.”
According to those at the protest, the main confusion and concern surrounds the city’s multi-million dollar relief fund that the utility department rolled out earlier this year called Project RESTOR. Project RESTOR was approved by the city council and was aimed at helping customers from their overwhelming balances on their bills. Hundreds of customers applied and received financial assistance, but many still had remaining dues on their accounts.
The Alexandria Utility Department had previously reported that those remaining fees would be converted into a payment plan and then added to each of their bills labeled as “RESTOR Installment.”
It is important to note that “RESTOR Installment” does not mean customers are paying back the RESTOR funds they received at the beginning of the year. It is the remaining fees left over from the existing balance in the account.
However, even one city official said that the process was not detailed to them or the customers.
“I didn’t have a clear understanding,” said District 3 Councilwoman Cynthia Perry. “I don’t think the citizens had a clear understanding, and we voted on something that was supposed to help those people, but it didn’t.”
Councilwoman Perry said she is challenging the rest of the city council to look at further solutions to help those family households that are being cut off. Perry has turned her attention to the $3.5 million that was originally allocated for Project RESTOR for 3,500 eligible homes. She claims that not all of those funds were used and wants to know where that money is now and fully spend it to make sure customers are not being disconnected.
“I know we had three point five and from my understanding, we used one point five,” said Perry on the amount of money Project RESTOR used. “You can imagine what an individual or a family life might be during this time of the year.”
News Channel 5 has reached out to the City of Alexandria multiple times requesting more clarification regarding concerns that utility customers are currently facing, but have not heard back.
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