BRISTOL, Va. — BVU Authority plans to roll out a new payment option for customers later this year.

On Friday, the authority board unanimously approved a “levelized billing” program for residential customers who receive electricity, water and sewer services. It will go into effect in September and replace the current budget payment plan that BVU has offered for many years, according to Chris Hall, key accounts, rates and projects manager.

“The program that the board approved repeals the budget billing program and replaces it with the levelized program. Customers can sign up but we won’t actually implement it until September 2019,” Hall said. “Instead of having high peaks in summer and winter, the bill would be levelized. It won’t be the same every month, it will change.”

About 1,895 BVU customers currently use the budget billing option, Hall said.

The new program is designed to prevent drastic changes in monthly utility statements. It will use a rolling average of the previous 11 months of bills, plus a calculation of the current month’s bill so that bills cover the cost of actual usage.

The current budget billing takes a “one-time snapshot” of a utility bill and the customer pays that same amount each month. Every June, that bill is “trued up” and the customer could wind up owing hundreds of dollars.

“We feel like this is much more fair because it takes the burden off our customers,” Hall said. “Sure, they don’t have the predictability of bills being the same each month, but it eliminates the anxiety of what will that 12th month be.”

Because the new program adjusts the rate monthly there is no need to reconcile the bill each year, he said.

“It’s not uncommon for us to send customers who are used to getting a $100 or $150 invoice getting a $600 bill,” Finance Director Matthew Boothe told the board. “Then they have to come into Chris’ department to set up payment arrangements to get that fixed. It puts them in a very bad spot.”

The newly approved policy also formalizes a series of payment arrangement policies that BVU has long used to accommodate customers who struggle to pay their bills. Such arrangements must be made with BVU prior to the date service is to be disconnected, Hall said.

The options include:

» A full hold, where customers may be granted an additional five business days to pay the full amount plus late fees. A full hold is only available twice in any 12-month period with prior months in good standing.

» A partial hold may allow customers the option of paying 50 percent of their full amount due, including late fees, and extend the balance to the next regularly scheduled due date. Partial holds are available on an ongoing basis if the prior month’s statement is in good standing.

» A fixed due date for customers on fixed incomes, to allow time for depositing of monthly checks to pay utility bills. Customers are eligible each month following proof of Supplemental Security Income or disability benefits.

In other matters, the board learned BVU attorney Cameron Bell will meet next month with Bristol Virginia City Manager Randy Eads to discuss any funds the city might receive from the settlement of the OptiNet sale. A recent audit showed the proceeds are all committed, but city leaders insist they are due money from the $50 million transaction.

The board also heard an update on an ongoing comprehensive study looking for leaks in BVU’s water system. The $50,000 study is about 40 percent complete and a number of leaks have been identified. The results will help form the basis of a long-range capital improvement plan, water system Manager Phillip King told the board.

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