MOORHEAD — The amount of past due bills owed to Moorhead Public Service has more than doubled in the past six months, likely due primarily to the coronavirus pandemic.

The MPS commission on Tuesday night, Sept. 15, heard the report from Controller Mark Moilanen who said they would welcome ideas to help bring down the $1.4 million owed.

Six months ago, in February, the past due amount was about $672,000, he said.

Overall, the monthly percentage of total past due accounts at the end of August was 16.4% compared to 15.9% at the end of July.

Meanwhile, across the river, Communications Manager for Cass County Electric Co-op Jocelyn Hovland said they didn't have any numbers compiled, but account representatives work with members daily to make payment arrangements to prevent customers from falling too far behind to catch up.

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She added that they have been running a promotion for a $10 credit when customers sign up for paperless billing and a $10 credit for signing up for autopay through a checking account since May, anticipating members could use some help.

Moilanen said they were sending out automated calls to overdue Moorhead customers and urging them to seek financial aid available through the Lakes & Prairie Community Action Partnership in Moorhead or the West Central Community Action energy assistance program in Elbow Lake.

"They have funds to help people with these bills," he said.

Especially concerning, Moilanen said, is that 953 customers have bills that are four months or more overdue with an average outstanding balance of $1,500. Another 1,227 customers have accounts past due by 30 days or more.

The consumer-owned electric and water utility has about 21,000 customers with annual revenue of about $25 million, so the climbing number of delinquent accounts adding up to $1.4 million is of concern.

With disconnections off-limits during the pandemic, MPS has not been able to use that strategy to help collect payments.

"We're going to have to put a process in place to try to collect in the future," Moilanen said. "I have a feeling it's not going to disappear."

When MPS Chairwoman Kristine Thompson asked if people were making attempts at partial payments, Moilanen said the number of cutoff notices which still go out with billing has been dropping, indicating some efforts are being made.

He said a lot of people are only behind by one or two months, but the high number behind by three or four months was becoming a problem. They are the ones who should try to seek aid, he added.

Meanwhile, it was reported that residential electrical usage is continuing to increase significantly. It was up 8% in August, while business usage was down about 5%.

Residential water usage was also up 10%, while commercial usage was down 14%.

Industrial water usage has flattened, Moilanen said.

Thus, he said, revenue is fairly flat with the increases and decreases balancing out. As an example, August figures showing electric consumption was 1% above the amount used in August a year ago, while water usage was up 4%.

Those seeking aid in paying bills can contact Lakes & Prairie at 218-512-1500 or West Central at 800-492-4805, Ext 1.