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Electric debts spark holiday debate

Stephanie Mlot
Frederick News-Post

(12/3) Commissioner Ron Terpko doesn't want to be called a Scrooge.

"I know it's Christmas; I know it's the holidays," he said. "But I have a severe, severe problem with people who owe us thousands and thousands of dollars for past-due electric bills, and they have Christmas lights on blaring from as soon as it gets dark until the very early morning."

At Monday's town meeting, Terpko voiced his concern about the number of residents with overdue electric bills who are sporting grand Christmas displays at their homes.

The town keeps a list of offenders, updated monthly by Chief Financial Officer Rick May. Commissioner Glenn Muth said some of the people are estimated to be three or four years late in payment.

"When I look at that list, and I look at the Hummer sitting in the driveway, and I know that you just got back from a cruise, and I know that you have all these Christmas lights on, but yet, there's no money coming to the town office, I have a problem with that," Terpko said.

The prospect of publishing the town's list has been discussed in the past, but never acted upon. Commissioner Wayne Hooper said he has heard complaints about making the list public.

"People feel it would only create animosity," he said. "They know that they're behind."

Chief Administrative Officer Bill Blakeslee said the town has been lenient over the years, and a lot of people have learned to take advantage of that, making small payments for each bill and prolonging the process. A new policy, in effect Jan. 1, will eliminate all that, Blakeslee said, making the procedure cut and dry.

"Our Christmas lights, for the last few years, have been nothing more than a few candles in the window," Commissioner Bob Lookingbill said. "I have no problem with (people) decorating, as long as (they're) paying the electric bill."

He said the bills have to be paid by someone, so if the residents aren't doing so, it's left to the town. "I say put their names in the paper, cut them off, do whatever has to happen," Lookingbill said.

According to Blakeslee, power can't be cut off in the winter without taking some extraordinary steps. A written notice and two verbal phone calls on different days, one of which has to be after hours, are the first steps.

He also said that the temperature cannot be projected to fall below 32 degrees for the next three or four days before electricity and power can be shut off.

"What that means is that the first time we get warm weather, whether it's in January, we'll cut them off," Blakeslee said.

He said that based on Monday's foot traffic at the town office, there is a lot more resident concern over getting bills paid.

Muth wants to make sure that anyone on the overdue bill list will be ineligible for the town's annual Christmas decorations contest this month.

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