Utilities and plumbing: Paying for the cold

Plumbers busy Utility bill help

Cecilia Botero enjoys a swim in the heated pool at the YMCA on a freezing morning in Gainesville, Fla., Tuesday, January 11, 2010. "It's wonderful," said Botero. "But, you have to have an entry and an exit strategy."

Erica Brough/ Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 at 11:42 p.m.

Gainesville's overnight low temperature Tuesday moved well enough below freezing to tie another record and caused more broken water pipes in the area.

The freezing weather should be history by Thursday, but reports of broken pipes are expected to continue for a few more days.

And about the time the damage from the cold weather is repaired, utility bills from the record cold spell will start showing up in mailboxes.

The low Tuesday in Gainesville was 22 degrees, which ties the record set for this date in 1959, according to records collected by the National Weather Service.

The morning low extended the number of consecutive days of freezing temperatures to 11. The previous record for the area had been nine consecutive days in December 1960.

Area plumbing businesses say the steady stream of freezing nights has created streams of water flowing from broken pipes.

"We've had about double the usual number of calls," said Bryan Nazworth, owner of Quality Plumbing in Gainesville. "On Monday, we put off everything else and just worked on frozen pipes."

While many of the breaks were reported in irrigation systems, Nazworth said they were just as troublesome as those that broke inside homes because they still required the water to be shut off for a while.

He predicted that his crews would continue to get calls for help with broken pipes for several days after warmer weather moved into the region on Thursday.

"In some cases, it is just a slit in a pipe that starts as a slow leak, but as we thaw out, it could get bigger," Nazworth said. "And we will start hearing from people who may have an empty rental house who didn't know they had a leak."

The weather service is predicting one more night of freezing temperatures, then a slow warming trend, with daytime highs reaching 70 by the weekend and overnight lows around 50 by Saturday night.

A lingering effect of the cold will be the headaches over how to pay utility bills that could double or triple for many families.

Cindy Andrade, the customer operations director at Gainesville Regional Utilities, said efforts are made to help customers handle the financial wallop of a huge bill.

"We have short-term payment extensions, and in more serious situations we can split the bill over a few months - we try to be flexible," Andrade said. As many as 5,000 of GRU's approximately 90,000 customers are granted extensions or other payment arrangements a month, Andrade said. For those who have no money to pay their bill, Project Share might help.

Project Share began more than 15 years ago when GRU sent out requests with monthly bills encouraging customers to make a donation to help less-fortunate customers. In 2009, the program raised about $85,800, which was forwarded to local charitable organizations including the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and Gainesville Community Ministries.

For information on how to receive assistance, call 211, the United Way's information and referral service, said Jan Zak, who has spent the past 25 years with the agency. She emphasized that the agency also provides referral help to Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties.

"Each week, we call agencies that distribute rent, utility and food assistance, and we ask about availability," Zak said. At the end of the week, the list of available assistance is distributed to about 200 entities, including civic, social and service organizations that have contact with needy families, Zak said.

United Way 211 also can connect people to government agencies with assistance available.

For example, the Community Action Agency has money from a state program known as the Low Income Heat and Energy Assistance Program, while the Department of Children and Families has money from the state to help families with a $400 once-a-year grant from the Emergency Financial Assistance for Homelessness Prevention program. Some of the available programs target certain segments of society, such as the utility assistance grant provided through Elder Care.

"And in about six weeks, there will be federal emergency food and shelter money arriving," Zak said.

The federal government has announced that it will be providing emergency money to the following counties based on population: Alachua $124,555; Bradford $14,000; Dixie $9,000; Gilchrist $10,000; Levy $27,000; and Union $6,000.

"That money means there is light at the end of the tunnel," Zak said. "It's money a lot of families really need."

Contact Karen Voyles at 359-5656 or voylesk@gvillesun.com.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top