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The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

Students, residents struggle to pay utility bills

Melanie Camara

After Tristan Pride, an urban and regional planning junior, was a few days late to pay his utility bill, the power in his townhome at Windmill Townhomes & Duplexes shut off. Pride said he was left scrambling to figure out a way to get the additional funds to restore power.

According to SMTX Utilities, utility rates have increased by 3.6% in the 2023-24 fiscal year due to “inflation and rising industry costs, including labor contracts and materials.”

According to Pride, when he could not pay his electricity bill amount, he had no choice but to wait until he made enough money to pay it off.

“I was not made aware of, with any of the bills I’ve gotten, there were any assistance programs that help other community members in a similar spot that I was in,” Pride said. “I just had to sit and wait. I was in a pretty bad financial spot.”

Pride said SMTX Utilities cut off his power within a week of his failing to pay. When he reached out to the city for assistance, he said he received no support regarding any financial assistance programs.

According to Christine Avalos, utility billing manager, if a payment is not made on the due date, a delinquent notice is issued to a resident notifying them when power shut-off will occur. Avalos said the SMTX Utilities finance policy is to wait at least ten days after payment is due before shutting off power  

As for Pride’s case, he said his power shut off earlier than the scheduled shut-off date indicated in the delinquent notice.

According to Avalos, SMTX Utilities informs residents when they sign up what day their bill will be due every month. Utilities also allows residents to pay their bills electronically so potential postal delays do not interfere with payment.

“If there’s an error on our part in that charge, then that charge would not be billed,” Avalos said. “That information would be researched on the account.”

While a college student who is struggling financially could be eligible for aid with utility bills, Pride found no help when contacting utilities. Avalos said the utility department does not offer financial assistance applications but she advised residents to directly contact organizations for utility aid.

“I asked on the phone, ‘Do you have any assistance programs or programs for situations like this?’ and the representative said straight up ‘No, you need to [pay]  your bill,'” Pride said.

Since the utility department does not offer financial aid, the Utilities Customer Service website lists organizations like the Southside Community Center that could assist residents, according to Avalos.

According to the Utilities Customer Services website, financial assistance is primarily acquired through a “financial assistance application” to Community Action, Inc. of Central Texas, which prioritizes low-income residents, residents with disabilities, vulnerable seniors, families with new children and veterans.

Avalos said residents can opt-in to receive a folder containing information regarding bills, due dates and financial aid opportunities by signing up in person for SMTX Utilities.

“We put all the information out there as much as possible from the moment customers begin services with us because they need to ensure they are informed,” Avalos said.

Atom Von Arndt, a San Marcos resident, said he has difficulties finding information about financial assistance programs. Von Arndt also had his power cut off after not paying the late fee bill by the shut-off date.

“I never heard anything about [financial assistance], even when I called in and had been making partial payments, they never mentioned anything like that to me,” Von Arndt said.

According to Von Arndt, financial aid opportunities are great for assisting residents, but utilities must ensure residents know about it. 

“[Utilities is] putting in the work [for financial assistance], but they aren’t putting in the outreach work,” Pride said. “My advice for the city is to include more helpful information in the bills [utilities] sends out.”

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