MARCO ISLAND — After weeks of arguing with Lee County Electric Cooperative about late fees, a large deposit and the power being shut off to their family home, Steve Higgins of Marco Island, is grateful that the electric provider worked out a resolution on Thursday.
Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC), which is the electricity provider on Marco Island, has been under scrutiny from customers, particularly in Cape Coral, angry about having to pay large deposits.
Higgins reported a similar problem Wednesday and feared he wouldn’t get any relief from LCEC.
“There has been so much publicity ... They have such a defense up now, I don’t think I’ll get anywhere,” Higgins said before the resolution.
Higgins was late paying the family’s bill, but he said he paid online, within the five day grace period, on multiple occasions. However, the payment wasn’t posting for the bill. Instead, the next due bill was paid in advance of its due date.
“It was their Web site that created the whole situation,” Higgins said. “It’s automatically set up to pay on the next due date and we didn’t know that.”
Because of the late payments, LCEC required Higgins to pay a deposit of $600. When he could not pay, his power was shut off in late January.
The deposit amount is calculated based on two months of the customer’s average bill.
Customer service eventually allowed Higgins to split the deposit over a couple months and his power was restored.
But Higgins stood firm in his belief that he did nothing wrong and should not have to pay a deposit.
Higgins initially took the issue up with a supervisor to no avail. He decided to contact a reporter.
LCEC spokeswoman Karen Ryan requested the customer service department review Higgins’ account Wednesday. She said Thursday evening, they found logic to his story.
There is an option to change the due date when customers pay online, but if they do not do that, the next month’s bill will be paid when customers pay late.
“In the Higgins’ situation, it was evident, when you really looked into it,” Ryan said.
Higgins said he was very pleased when his daughter Jaclyn received a call from LCEC Thursday morning and was told his problems stemmed from the Web site payment.
“They took the deposit away. I think it’s great ... I felt like I was fighting a monster. I was about to give up,” Higgins said.
Higgins said he was surprised that LCEC wouldn’t work with him sooner.
“They just wouldn’t budge,” he said. “... They didn’t want to talk.”
By not changing the due date when using the online payment feature, which is provided by a third party, customers face more late fees, flawed customer credit with LCEC and a significant deposit requirement.
Curtis Bostick has been a member of the LCEC board representing Marco Island for more than 20 years. He says many of the recent problems being reported are another sign of the times economically.
“From the standpoint of the co-op, which is all of us, we had to write off millions of dollars last year as a result (of unpaid customer bills). We needed to get stricter with our collections,” Bostick said Thursday morning.
Upon hearing of a resolution to the Higgins’ problems with LCEC, Bostick said: “The only thought I have, with all due respect, is that those Web sites, they can be confusing.”
Ryan recommends contacting LCEC before there is a problem to avoid large deposits and to keep requesting to speak with the next level of management if it’s necessary.
“There is no black and white on this and everyone has their own situation,” said Bostick, adding that LCEC will try to work with people.
As for a resolution of every late payment problem, Ryan is not confident it will always work out as smoothly as in Higgins’ case.
Had LCEC looked into Higgins account and found a long history of late payments, the result would not have been the same, she said.
Marco residents who are not comfortable paying online can pay at the Chevron Food Mart, 1095 N. Collier Blvd. A full list of locations to pay in-person is available on the LCEC Web site lcec.net.