By Cassie McClure
Published in the Las Cruces Sun News 11/22/20.
Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) realizes that there are hard choices being made for families and businesses throughout our area. City Council mandated suspension to utilities disconnections for non-payment at the start of the COVID restrictions last March. However, those suspensions could be lifted later in 2021 as our community normalizes. LCU wants to advise customers and make sure that accounts do not get behind and become more of a burden when shut offs do start again.
“Our priority is the health and safety of our citizens during this public health crisis,” said Steven Valdez, LCU billing & receivables supervisor. “Utility service is a necessity at this time more than ever, however, it does cost the City to provide utilities to our customers.”
As LCU gets closer to when utility disconnections may occur, it may be harder to manage if the customers have not started a process to work with LCU to either receive assistance with their bills or request a Promise to Pay for those who know money will be available.
“It’s important that residents try to reach out to us to learn about their options, many of which they may not have known about,” Valdez said. “Plus, it lets us know where you are – if you know that your job may begin again after the shutdown and you can slowly pay back on your bill.”
If customers do fall behind, LCU follows a procedure that notifies customers of their past due balance. The first point of contact is a past due reminder mailed to their billing address. If there is no payment to their account, then 15 days later the customer receives a doorhanger and a message by phone, text, and email of the past due balance; all efforts that LCU takes to try and start the conversation about paying down service debts that may have accrued.
“Customers shouldn’t think they are the only ones reaching out for help. Over 800 customers are seeking assistance right now and over 80 businesses,” said Valdez. “We want to make sure that you stay connected and that any debt that may be accruing during this time, due to a job on hold during the shutdown, isn’t a hill that turns into a mountain.”
“To ensure the safety of our customers and our staff, we recommend paying online or by phone,” Valdez said. Payments can be made online at las-cruces.org or by phone at 866-426-9757 – all free of charge.
Lastly, if customers believe they may need help to heat their homes, the winter season gas bill assistance begins November 15, 2020. For eligibility information for the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), please contact the New Mexico Human Services Department at 800-283-4465.
LCU can be reached at 575-528-3500 from 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides services to approximately 100,000 Las Cruces residents and businesses.
PHOTO 1: It’s not a note a customer wants to see on their door, but it is an active effort that LCU takes to try and start the conversation about customers paying down payment debt that may have accrued. Give LCU Customer Central a call at (575) 541-2111 to find out options for payment.