Utilities face backlog of hook-ups

Renters late with their requests must wait days for electricity.
Wednesday, August 6, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:38 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 13, 2008

Few events in life are more stressful than moving, but as some recently relocated Columbia residents are finding out, living in a house without electricity for several days afterward might be worse.

Because most rental leases in Columbia end between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15, and many students are relocating to new housing, the next two weeks are traditionally the busiest of the year for the City of Columbia Water and Light Division.

New renters flooded the division with 8,187 requests for new utility hookups last month. Those who were late with their request will have to wait until today or Thursday before they can turn their lights on, watch television or use their refrigerators. In an average month, the department receives between 1,500 and 2,000 requests for hookups.

“One of my tenants was told there was a six-day wait before his power would be connected,” said Peter Bartok, who leases several local properties. “That’s really hard to fathom.”

Water and Light officials said the delay is not any worse than most years, and the department was doing everything possible to minimize the backlog.

“Every year we try to refine the process and improve our systems to make the transition easier,” said Connie Kacprowicz, a spokeswoman for the department. She also said four temporary employees were hired to help with phone requests this month.

However, Kacprowicz said the only way to ever prevent a huge backlog at the beginning of August is for tenants to sign up earlier for utilities.

“We do a good amount of advertising to tell people to sign up as early as possible,” Kacprowicz said.

Water and Light officials also pointed to a program called landlord reversion as a potential solution to the annual overflow of requests. The program automatically switches utilities to a landlord’s name after a tenant moves out, then changes to the new tenant’s name when they move in. This eliminates the need to disconnect and then reconnect electricity in the span of a few days during a change in residents.

“It’s a big problem-solver for the landlords and the city because we just need to read a meter rather than connect and disconnect the service,” said Patricia Bollman, a utility accounts supervisor for the department. “That would mean quite a lot less hassle for students, for us, and for the landlords.”

Some landlords are wary of the program, however, because it automatically makes them responsible for utilities at an occupied residence. An unscrupulous resident could shut off their utilities at the end of June and force their landlords to pay for the next month.

“We don’t want the owner to be responsible for the utilities of a resident,” said Joe Callahan, owner of Callahan and Galloway Property Management, Inc.

Other services have not experienced difficulties with the number of requests filed this month. Susan Gallagher, a spokeswoman for Ameren UE, which handles natural gas in Columbia, said that while this is normally a busy time for them, they have not yet experienced a rush in requests for new service or switched service.

“In past years, we’ve faced a rush where a large number of orders have descended on us, and that hasn’t happened yet this year,” Gallagher said.

Local cable provider Mediacom also has not been forced to delay services. Mediacom spokesman Stan Melton said if you request a hookup today you’ll be connected within three days.

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