As the weather grows colder across Allen County, Jeri Waters is bracing for the effect of rising energy costs.
Waters administers help to those who struggle to pay their utility bills. She is treasurer for the Iola Area Ministerial Alliance, and in charge of the Community Utility Relief Board (CURB). Her group provides up to $150 in utility relief starting in late October.
“Right now, we are sitting pretty good,” she said of CURB’s coffers. “But with the winter coming in, it’s going to be tight.”
Her group relies fully on private donations for their support. The Iola Senior Center and the Salvation Army also contribute to the CURB fund.
For assistance, Allen Countians must have a past-due bill and show that they are working to pay off their expenses.
“We always try to talk to them about raising part of the money,” she said. She said the funds tend to get low as the months grow colder, and once the funds are gone, they don’t have any options. “If you don’t have the money, you have to turn them (those in need) away.”
Past experience has shown that those who ask for CURB funds, are truly in need.
“I don’t have repeats,” Waters said. “It is the circumstances that have caused this. So many times these people come in and they need $300 or $400.”
She said common reasons for CURB requests are the loss of a job, or children coming into the family unexpectedly. Rarely do individuals ask for assistance, Waters said. “It’s families who need the help.”
The program is currently funded to fulfill 33 to 35 requests.
ROXANNE HUTTON, Iola city clerk, said she is put in a difficult position every year when winter rolls around — although her issues are generally with “repeat offenders.”
She said the City of Iola does not adhere to the “cold weather rule,” which states cities that use corporations such as Westar to supply their energy needs must leave utilities on for past-due bills when temperatures dip below freezing. The rule is only mandatory for corporations, not municipalities that own their own utilities.
“A lot of people are under that misconception,” she said.
The City of Iola currently serves 3,741 customers in and out of the city limits. They shut off utilities for 71 homes on average every month. The highest month for shutoffs is October.
She said corporations that adhere to the cold-weather rule oftentimes drag out the process — which could push people further into debt.
“It’s actually burdening them, I think,” Hutton said.
She said consequences for shutting off utilities in the winter may be higher, but costs run higher on average in the summer than the winter — August is the highest month on average. She said the amount of shutoffs is about the same throughout the year, although people are motivated to pay their bills when it’s cold outside.
“People are quicker to get their heat turned back on,” she said.
Hutton added the city is willing to work with people having financial trouble, as long as they show intiative.
“You can always make payments,” she said. “We are willing to help within the 42 days (the time given to pay the bill), but we have to pay the bills, too.”
IOLA Code Services Officer Shonda Jefferis said it is important for a home to have proper insulation first and foremost, but they haven’t had any formal complaints by residents in the area.
“For new construction, I don’t think it’s an issue,” Jefferis said. For older construction, “blown-in” insulation can be an issue, she said, and needs to be re-filled. The materials used will compact over time and allow air pockets in-between walls.
The City of Iola requires — according to the 2000 International Property Maintenance Code — that a home, old or new, be able to maintain at least 65 degrees at any point during the year. She said there have been no formal complaints or citations for the homes in Iola, but concerns can be brought to her office.