BRYAN, Texas — At Tuesday night's Bryan City Council meeting, a unanimous decision was made to temporarily suspend deposit charges for the reconnection of utility services — an attempt at offering financial relief for utility customers hit hard by inflation and the summer heat wave.
Customers of BTU and unable to pay their utility bill for a certain number of weeks are liable to have their power shut off.
To have services turned back on, those customers are going to have to pay some amount of money: a $20 shutoff fee, a $5 reinstallment fee, and a varying amount of additional funds for a deposit .
BTU representatives presenting at the council meeting said the deposit runs at about $72 on average per customer. With the council's recent decision, specifically that deposit charge will be suspended until Nov. 1.
"BTU, they love to say they that they have to collect that money from our poorest neighbors or else they're going to raise the rates on us," said Dan Kiniry, a local nonprofit leader and Bryan community activist. "They love to keep us scared, but they've got millions of dollars at any given time."
A number of local men and women, particularly nonprofit leaders, spoke up at Tuesday's city council meeting to voice their disapproval of the existence of a reinstallment deposit altogether.
Kiniry was one of two individuals who took to the streets of downtown Bryan protesting on Wednesday, unsatisfied with the council's temporary action — a move they consider to not be enough.
"It's not going to make anybody's bill go up," said Shawn Chapman, a Bryan community activist and protester, referring to the elimination of deposits. "It's just making money off the poor, and that's disgusting. It's not okay."
Charitable organizations were represented at Tuesday's meeting, and leaders from those nonprofits insisted to city council members that they regularly do not have enough funding from donations to supplement all customers in distress.
Dr. Esther Miranda of St Vincent De Paul stressed that handing a delinquent customer a charity's phone number is a disservice.
During deliberations, Bryan Mayor Andrew Nelson questioned BTU officials as to whether it would be possible to instill a program in which financially secure customers can donate money to low income customers. Those representatives responded that they would research the opportunity. Nelson also asked for clarification about the need for fees and deposits.
"Are we by law allowed to provide free power to people because we like them or because of their income level?" Nelson said. "Does the law allow us to give away free power?"
"I would have to defer to legal, but there is the public utility regulatory act called PURA, and we do have to charge for services provided," said the BTU rep.
BTU further commented that the deposits required for reinstallment help BTU mitigate the risks of non-payment, and are an industry standard. The representative had noted during his presentation that in 2021, $234,000 in bad debt had been written off, which is less than 0.002% of the retail revenue.
Mayor Nelson said if a charity were offended that their phone number was listed among resources available for delinquent BTU customers, their phone number would be removed from that list.
When discussing the $20 and $5 fees associated with disconnection and reinstallment, BTU reps said these fees used to be higher when a technician would need to drive to a residence to shut down power, but now those fees are lower since the technician may do the work remotely.
To watch the city council meeting, visit the following link: