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Unpaid electrical accounts are becoming a problem in Pratt

Fran Brownell

With several hundred delinquent electric accounts on the books, the City of Pratt utility budget is becoming a matter of concern, Pratt City Manager Bruce Pinkall told city commissioners at their regular meeting Monday, May 17, at City Hall.

The meeting was held via Zoom online services, with Mayor Gary Schmidt presiding from his seat at the commission table and commissioner Don Peters and City Attorney Regina Probst attending remotely.

Commissioners Doug Meyer and Zach Deeds were present in person at city hall for the meeting. Commissioner Jason Leslie was not in attendance.

Under current COVID-19 regulations, the City of Pratt and other electric utility providers throughout Kansas are prohibited from turning off electric power for non-payment of monthly bills, Pinkall said.

But City Clerk LuAnn Kramer who oversees the utility department said Pratt now has several hundred delinquent accounts, and it’s a problem.

“Some are up to four months overdue,” Kramer said. “One delinquent account has an outstanding balance of more than $2,200, which has accumulated since February.”

Kramer said she hoped that COVID-19 regulations would not tie the city’s hands much longer with the ‘no-turn-off’ ruling.

“This is our revenue,” Kramer said. “We have to hold people’s feet to the fire. That is the only way we’re going to get caught up.”

Pinkall said the city would work patiently with the comunity to address the utility payment situation so that residents can recover from the challenge and life can get back to normal after the coronavirus pandemic is over.

When contacted to see if city residents were needing help paying electrical bills because of economic hardship, Hope Center Director Pam Ford said the agency has not yet had any requests for assistance with city light bills.

“We help as much as we can if it is truly needed,” Ford said.

At the meeting, Kramer said that electric usage is up with families being at home during the day and said that, with summer coming and air conditioners turned on, usage is expected to increase even more.

Director of Electric Utilities Jamie Huber told commissioners, stating that last March the city purchased two million kilowatts more electricity than was purchased in March 2019.

Public Works Director Russ Rambat said city departments under his direction, including streets, water, parks and electric were also being budget conscious.

“We look at every expenditure one-at-a-time to see if it’s absolutely necessary,” Rambat told commissioners. “We’ve not hired any part-timers."

Huber reported that his department recently set a record of going over five weeks without an after-hours call.

“That’s never happened as long as I’ve been here,” Huber said. “Basically, it’s just due to keeping up with the maintenance and tree-trimming.”

Huber also told commissioners that he anticipated the new lights for Angood Field at Lemon Park would be up and working in time for the 2021 baseball season.

Completing the only agenda item for the session, city commissioners updated five ordinances by deleting the specified dollar amount for fee with the wording “specified fee,” with the dollar amount for each ordinance recorded in a new Global Fee Ordinance.

The ordinances updated at the meeting were Ordinance 2051- Operation of Vehicles with Loud Exhaust Devices Prohibited; Ordinance 2052 - Operation of Micro Utility Trucks; Ordinance 2053 - Operation of Work-Site Utility Vehicles; Ordinance 2054 - Penalty for Violation of Section 10.28.010; Ordinance 2055 - Penalty for Violation of Section 10.36.040; Ordinance 2056 - Sidewalk Construction Bonds; Ordinance 2057 - Snow and Ice Removal; and Ordinance 2058 - Excavation Bonds.

An ordinance relating to Ordinance 2050 Regarding Hours of Sale at Retail of Alcoholic Liquor Within the City was updated for clarification, but did not affect the established hours for sale of beer or alcohol, Probst said.

In response to a question posed by Commissioner Peters regarding public meeting rules regarding social distancing, Probst said that groups of up 10 can meet, but they must be separated by other groups of up to 10 by at least 6 feet.

Pinkall said Pratt Police officers are monitoring local restaurants and other businesses, issuing reminders if needed, but are not being confrontational.

The commissioners discussed the reopening of the city swimming pool, but no action was taken. Pinkall said that a decision will have to be made soon, based on safety issues and budget concerns.