Some Salem residents say utility bills more than double

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SALEM, Mo. -- People from Lebanon to Ozark, and from Springfield to Salem-- are digging deeper than ever to afford that high heating bill.

Many customers in Dent County are pushing the city of Salem for change.

Fortunately, the weather has been a lot more mild the last few days.
Because between the extreme cold temperatures last month, plus what was a longer billing cycle in Salem, people got their utility bill in the mail to find absolute sticker shock.

Nikki Riley has become an accidental activist.

"My friend is a single person in a two bedroom house, and her electric bill was almost 800 dollars," Riley said. "She posted about it." And thus, Nikki began the fight. She attended a recent Board of Aldermen meeting, trying to get answer on why so many people's bills, were so much higher than usual.

At the meeting, Riley said she met multiple people in the same predicament-- a bill too hot to handle.

"You shouldn't say should I have power or should I eat?" Riley said.

Among those hard hit, her friend Shay Smith, a single mom of two.

"I thought something was wrong of course, because every time I leave, I turn my furnace down to 65, sometimes even 63," Smith explained.

Her utility bill more than doubled the last cycle. She owes 499-dollars.

City leaders admit-- sometimes customers have a much longer billing cycle, which makes it tough to predict the cost.

"The folks in our water department have to go out and manually read all the meters in the city, which is not really efficient. And (whether they can get to the meters) is dependent on weather," Mayor Brad Nash explained. "If we have a water main break or that type of thing, there is a possibility they could be a day late, or a couple days late to read that meter."

Mayor Nash says they're looking at an automated system-- to the tune of 1 million dollars. It is tough money for the city to come by, but money well spent, he says.

"We are hoping to get new automated system in within the next few months," Nash said.

Until then, it's due February 20th. As of March 5th, you're late, and a fee will be tacked onto your bill. If payment has not been received by the 5th, power is shut off, unless the city is prohibited by rules set forth by the Public Service Commission.

"So if I'm late, it's going to be 560-something bucks, which it's going to be late," Smith said. "That is more than my rent... ya know, that's a lot of money."

The mayor says right now the town does not have a payment plan where you can pay your bill in smaller increments. You must pay in full.

The city is looking to add a payment plan option, possibly by the end of this current billing cycle.

There is an aldermen meeting scheduled for February 20th to discuss the matter.