Sandhills utility companies feel financial burden as executive order expires soon

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Sandhill utility companies are facing a major financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Governor Cooper's utility shut off order suspended disconnections and late fees during the pandemic. It's an effort aimed at easing the financial pressure for customers, but unless something is done the order will expire Sunday.

"We have about $3 million dollars in past due accounts and we're projecting as we move into June that could rise to $6 million dollars," said Fayetteville Public Works Commission spokeswoman Carolyn Justice-Hinson.

According to Justice-Hinson, the company serves 120,000 customers in Cumberland County. Of those customers, 20,000 people are behind in payments. In an effort to ease that burden the PWC Commission delayed a scheduled water rate hike and lowered electric rates to 4.7 percent.

"With so many people being furloughed, we know consumers have been impacted by job losses," said Katherine O'Dell, Vice President of Member Services with South River EMC. "If we didn't cut off anyone through the end of the year then that could really put a strain on the co-op."

The COVID-19 crisis put a financial strain on South River EMC, which is a co-op which services 45,000 customers in five counties.

Financial information during the coronavirus pandemic: Unemployment, stimulus bill, loan information and more

Both companies vowed to extend a six month grace period to customers struggling to pay past due balances. They said customers must tell them they need assistance and they'll work with them to come up with a plan.
Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.