INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- One-third of Independence Power and Light's customers are behind on their utility bill. That's 18,000 customers, and many of those customers say there's just no way to catch up.
"We're always between $550 and $625 at a minimum,” said Independence resident, Patricia, who didn’t want her last name used.
Independence Power and Light customers say ever since the city converted its utility billing system in May, their bills have increased. But the city said prices have actually decreased.
Independence City Manager, Zach Walker, said the new billing system generated a lot of questions.
"A lot of people were concerned, reporting that they'd seen double and triple sometimes in the number of increases in their bill,” Walker said.
But the city said the changeover happened when temperatures were hot over the summer.
"As a result of the new utility billing system, while we were working out, making sure and verifying the accuracy of those bills, we did a moratorium on their disconnect policy, and we are seeing a higher number of delinquent accounts this time of year than we would typically see," Walker added.
Patricia has lived in her four-bedroom Independence home for almost seven years. She said her bill is higher now than it has been in the past -- and she can't afford to pay it.
"They offered us a month payment arrangement where all the past due was cut up into four months but is now added to our bill every single month, and with our bill already being high, our minimum payment to reach for tomorrow is $920," Patricia said.
The city insists it's checked and even brought in an auditor to make sure bills are calculated correctly.
Walker said they have about 57,000 accounts in the city, and 18,000 of those accounts are delinquent right now. That represents about $10 million in delinquent payments.
"I don't know how they expect anyone to pay that," Patricia said. "There`s not enough assistance anywhere that can help that many people."
Walker said he's doing her best to work with customers on a repayment plan.
"We do need folks to pay their bill. It costs a certain amount to operate our electric, water and sewer utilities, and we’ve got to bill people for what their actual usage was," Walker said.
"I mean, if working with you is having to pay more than your mortgage to keep your lights on," Patricia said. "Not everybody can be experiencing the same thing, without something being fundamentally wrong."
The city of Independence follows Missouri's Public Service Commission policy. It will not disconnect customers when it's 32 degrees or colder outside.
The city also partners with their Community Services League every year. There are funds available to help residents on a case-by-case basis.
If you have questions about your account, payment options or assistance programs, you can contact Utility Customer Service at 816-325-7930 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Independence Utilities Center is located at 17221 E. 23rd Street S. It’s open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.