Electric bill shock: Galion residents see sudden spike in utility bills

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Hundreds of utility customers say the bills they got in their mailboxes last week were double what they should have been.

It happened in the Crawford County city of Galion.

"I get paid bi-weekly. I get paid the same every two weeks, so I pretty much know what I have to spend, and what I have to save," said 23-year-old homeowner Ashley Church.

Last week her household budget took a hit with the arrival of her utility bill.

"It was over $400 when normally it's just a little over $200. So it was double what I was expecting to pay." She said her first thought: "Gotta be a mistake."

The city of Galion owns and operates its electric service. Mayor Tom O'Leary believes that's a benefit to residents.

"The cost and dependability, the two most important things, we continue to perform pretty well."

But Ashley is just one of several customers who contacted 10TV, concerned about the sudden spike in their latest bills.

Utility Clerk Amanda Poland says it wasn't a mistake, but a manpower issue.

"Last month we had a meter reader who was on vacation for a week, and during that week he was not here, we had to estimate some accounts," Poland said.

The city estimates some 800 customers had estimated bills for the month of January.

"Between Christmas time we had that sub-zero weather, and I don't think the estimated readings were high enough to reflect the extra usage we would have had during that time. So a lot of people are receiving larger bills this month, which is an actual reading again, to reflect that difference from the estimating."

Customers whose usage was Estimated will see an "E" on their bill. Those whose meters were read will see an "A" for actual.

Ashley calls the city's explanation less than satisfying.

"I'm just trying to make ends meet, and when you get a bill that's an extra $200 more than you were expecting, yeah, it's frustrating."

Poland says they rely on estimates rarely. For most customers, it has been five years. But she admits the timing - peak winter usage - wasn't ideal.

"None of us want to estimate. Because it creates this issue. It always is a hard thing. There's always sticker shock."

"I know there are people in this city that get bills like that that can't afford it," said Ashley. "And that's really my biggest issue. Am I going to pay it? Yeah, but can others? I don't know."

The city says anyone having trouble covering their bill should call the utility. They are willing to work out a payment plan.

As far as AEP-Ohio, they said their goal is to read 100 percent of meters each month, but in situations where they can't access a meter, they will estimate.

AEP is in the process of deploying "smart meters" that will allow remote reading. That installation should be complete across central Ohio early next year.