Independence residents frustrated as utility bills drastically increase

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Shock, surprise and disbelief are all emotions Darian Lackey says she experienced after opening her latest bill for her Independence utilities.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘That’s ridiculous,’” Lackey said.

She said her utilities bill nearly doubled from last month’s.

“Last month it was $175, which it was hot last month, too, but this month they’re saying that I pretty much owe them $500,” Lackey said.

She admits she was late on last month’s payment, causing a high total payment, but she says the most recent bill is about twice the previous bill.

It’s an amount this Independence mom said makes a huge difference in her finances.

“I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I live paycheck to paycheck. I work all the time, and I still just — it’s hard to make it,” Lackey said.

And she’s not alone.

Over the past few weeks, the Independence Utilities customer service team has been getting slammed with calls from customers concerned about their bill increases. Many are just now getting their first utility bills since the city overhauled the billing system.

“When we rolled that out May 22 to ensure that the bills were as accurate as possible, there was a 12-day delay in the bills being issued. So people may have not received their bill in the traditional time frame,” city spokeswoman Meg Lewis said.

Lewis said making the switch during the hottest months of the year could be another reason why people might be seeing changes to their bills.

“We saw a 24 percent increase in power usage in May alone, so the usage has been high because of the high temperatures, and we’ve also seen an increase in water,” she said.

It costs the city more money per kilowatt hour to power homes during peak season, which runs from May through September.

“We understand that there’s been sort of a perfect storm of the billing system rolling over and also one of the hottest summers that we’ve seen in years so the confusion is understandable. We’re making every effort to help those customers,” Lewis said.

And for the roughly 56,000 Independence utilities customers who are affected by this change, city leaders said once all the kinks are worked out, they think it will be a positive thing for customers and the city.

“The bills provide more information than they did in the past, which has encouraged people to look at the bills in different ways than they did before,” Lewis said. “And we understand that that’s going to bring more questions about and are doing everything we can to make sure that they have the information they need.”

Customers with questions about their bills should call the Utility Customer Service team at 816-325-7930. They ask for patience as they are experiencing a higher than usual call volume because of the switch.

The Independence Utilities website also has a FAQ section on it that provides a lot of answers about the recent billing system change and how to read your new bills.

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