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Rock Falls man: Power cut threatened

No cutoffs when 20 degrees or below, city official says

Published: Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014 1:15 a.m. CST
Caption
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Kerry McGrady of Rock Falls was threatened by the city of Rock Falls that it would cut off his utilities sduring subzero weather.

ROCK FALLS – The city has a rule that bars it from cutting off utility services to residents when the temperature drops below 20.

But Kerry McGrady, 48, who has lived in Rock Falls for a decade, says that’s not the word he got this week.

He said the city left a message on his phone Tuesday that it would cut off his services – electric, water and sewer – Wednesday morning. On that day, the low temperature was forecast at below zero.

“We’ll freeze to death,” he said. “I called back and asked, ‘Could you please not do this to my children?’ I have been paying for 10 years. They said they would cut off first thing tomorrow morning.”

The city eventually agreed not to cut off his service during the freezing weather.

In an email on Tuesday, City Administrator Robbin Blackert said she couldn’t comment on a specific customer’s situation because “privacy policies are strictly enforced regarding utility customers’ accounts.”

But she said the city abides by its ordinance and Illinois law.

“I cannot account for what someone tells you,” Blackert wrote in the email.

According to a city ordinance, which reflects state law, if the National Weather Service forecasts a temperature below 20 degrees in the next 24 hours, the city will not terminate residents’ utility services.

The ordinance requires the utilities office to inform the police when it cuts off a resident’s service when the low temperature in the past day was below 32 degrees. That is meant to alert the police to “the possible threat to the health and life of all persons residing in the residence.”

Without electricity, McGrady said, he wouldn’t be able to heat his home in the 300 block of Fifth Avenue, where he lives with his fiancée and three children. He said he hasn’t been able to pay his utility bills for the past couple of months, so he is behind by $600.

“I recently was injured at work. I was having financial problems,” he said, adding that he’ll be able to pay when he gets his tax refund.

He said the city shouldn’t cut off a resident’s electricity when it’s so cold. 

But he said a utilities employee told him the city would stick to its guns and proceed with the Wednesday cutoff.

After he called again to protest Tuesday, the city “backpedaled,” saying it wouldn’t cut off his electricity during the freezing weather, McGrady said.

“The situation has been rectified,” he reported.

He’ll be able to hold off on a termination for a while if the city follows its ordinance. For the next few days, the low temperatures are expected to be lower than 20.

Blackert’s email, which was sent to Sauk Valley Media after McGrady said the city decided against cutting off his service on Wednesday, stated that Rock Falls planned no utility terminations this week.

Blackert wouldn’t say what the customer service office told McGrady, but she spoke generally about the office’s practices.

“Accounts receivable calls happen throughout the year as a courtesy prior to disconnection, sometimes multiple times,” Blackert said. 

If a customer is eligible for disconnection, she said, “we believe it is advisable to remind them that when the temperature is predicted to be over 20 degrees for 24 hours, they will be disconnected with no additional notification required.”

“There has been no issue in the past with our disconnection procedures,” Blackert said, “perhaps only unhappy delinquent customers who are looking for any avenue to avoid disconnection.”

ComEd distributes electricity to most of the Sauk Valley. The company’s spokeswoman, Noelle Gaffney, said the utility provides information to customers about access to financial assistance for their bills.

“Disconnection of services is always a last resort,” she said. “Given the impact of winter on customers in northern Illinois, we generally don’t do disconnections between Dec. 1 and March 31.”

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