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Delinquent utility late bill policy in works

Chris Patterson
The Gazette

The Town of Thurmont still does not have a policy for handling delinquent utility bills, eight months after learning it failed to shut off a delinquent town commissioner's electricity while shutting off power to other residents who were delinquent.

But Mayor Martin Burns said he is expecting a draft of the policy on his desk by March 1.

In late June 2004, The Gazette learned Commissioner Wayne Hooper had been delinquent on utility payments for about three years and had not made a payment to the town at all for almost a year.

Around that time, town attorney N. Lynn Board -- at the request of the mayor -- investigated to determine if the commissioner used his influence to keep from having his power turned off. She determined he did not.

But she also reported to the Board of Commissioners that the town did not have a consistent policy to handle delinquent utility accounts, and she recommended that the town adopt a policy. None has yet been developed, Burns said.

In an e-mail response to questions asked by The Gazette this week, Burns wrote: "The policy has been delayed because [Maryland] regulations prohibit turning off anyone's power for lack of payment during certain winter months for obvious reasons. By the time I decided to have [Town Clerk Rick May] develop the policy we were getting close to the time the [state] regulations took effect. We also have much to consider that does not make a policy like this easy to draft."

According to state law, an electric utility may not shut off service to residents for nonpayment between Nov. 1 and March 31, except under specific conditions and with the approval of the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Burns wrote that since the town learned of Hooper's delinquencies, he instructed town staff to not turn off anyone's utilities.

"That does not mean that letters may not have been sent warning of disconnection, but it didn't seem appropriate to shut off resident's power for lack of payment when a [commissioner's power] was not shut off for the same thing until a policy was established addressing everyone," he wrote.

"...Don't misunderstand, I consider it a serious matter and would have hoped to have it completed long ago."

Burns said there is "not a huge problem in lack of payments" to the town, though business delinquencies are higher than he would like.

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