Citizens Energy customers to see combined bills

Citizens Energy will soon combine bills for its customers.
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Marion County's biggest utility company is changing the way it charges for service, but customers are already expressing concerns before they even receive the new bills.

Citizens Energy, which took control of Indianapolis Water last year, is now combining bills for Marion County customers who receive water, sewer, and natural gas service.

The company says it will save a million dollars in administrative costs each year, savings it says that could be passed on to customers. But not all customers are behind the change.

Margaret Drewery and her mother Marie Briscoe live in nearby homes on the north side. They both rely on Citizens Energy for natural gas and water and neither likes the switch to a combined bill.

"I just don't like it," Briscoe said, shaking her head.

"Because you pay one bill at one time and the other the next time, you know, you spread it out," Drewery added.

The women are in good company. Dan Considine, a spokesman for Citizens, said they've been flooded with questions on the new bills, which started going out this week.

How many calls?

Considine said they average about 2,000 a day. Now, they're averaging 3,500, so many that most callers receive a recorded message saying due to "an extremely high call volume" they are "unable to connect your call."

Considine said they've not only added more phone lines and extended shifts, but are in the process of hiring 20 new employees.

Not everyone is confused over or upset by the new bills.

"I do like this new system. Because it's combined, it makes it easier to pay your bill," said Claudette Hopkins.

"You can come to one place to pay gas and water and that's the best way to do it," Michael Nelson agreed.

Dan Stratton said the new system was fine.

"We try to pay extra anyway to stay ahead of the gas bill," he said.

But others here said having to suddenly pay two bills at once makes it tough.

"It's one big bill. It's a lot easier to come up with $30-40 than $100-120 for middle-income people," Michael McCabe said.

"There's a lot of people like me that's got themselves on a budget and they have to pay so much each pay day. It's going to be awfully hard for an elderly person to pay it," another woman said.

"We recognize for many low- and fixed-income customers, there's an adjustment period, so they can adjust their finances to that. We're going to work with customers and try to avoid late fees and certainly disconnections all we can," Considine said.

He said if customers worry about falling behind or have difficulties, they need to contact Citizens, which will help set up a payment plan.

Briscoe - who's on a fixed income - said her biggest concern was, "maybe I could pay my gas bill, but I might not be able to pay water at the same time, so does that mean they'll cut off both?"

Considine said if they receive a partial payment, the utility company will "allocate it proportionately across all three (gas, sewer and water)," working to avoid disconnection.

He said if they had to disconnect a service, it would be based on "the largest and oldest outdated balance."

Briscoe and Drewery said they still preferred the old system - separate bills for gas and water/sewer, but they were also resigned to the change.

"There's nothing we can do if you want water and gas," Briscoe said.

"That's right. There's no place else to go," her daughter added.

See frequently asked questions about Citizens combined bills.

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