Electrical energy provider Columbus has not returned buyer deposits for many years

Dwight D. Eisenhower had just taken over the presidency from Harry S. Truman, the very first Chevy Corvette was preparing to roll off the assembly line, and the Korean War came to a standstill.

And on June 12, 1953, William and Marilyn Plank had the City of Columbus turn on the electricity for their new South Side home that they had just bought from Marilyn’s parents. The security deposit collected by the City Division of Power was $ 10.

While a lot has obviously happened since that day, one thing has never happened – the city never returned the Planks’ bail. Using interest, the city calculates that Ms. Plank currently owes $ 37.22 – about a third of what could be bought for $ 10 in 1953.

“I had no idea,” said Marilyn, now 90, still a city electricity customer, who didn’t even know they’d made a down payment almost 70 years ago, assuming the account had just been taken over by her parents.

8,400 active public utility customers owed collateral totaling $ 1.58 million

Research by The Dispatch found that Marilyn Plank is now one of more than 8,400 active public utility customers who owed a total of $ 1.58 million in security deposits. Her husband, better known as “Willie” Plank, the founder of Plank’s Beer Garden at 888 S. High St. in the Brewery District, died in 2011.

The 8,400 customers don’t include the people who closed their accounts and didn’t reclaim their deposits as the city demands. In these cases, the city only keeps the deposit money.

Marilyn Plank

The Dispatch noted that the city had sat on some of the active customer depots since the 1940s. Almost 77% of them are over a year old, the maximum time a regulated private utility operating in Ohio can legally leave a security deposit before having to return them if the customer pays monthly bills on time.

However, the City of Columbus Division of Power is a state utility company that is not subject to this law.

“I can go out and show off,” joked Marilyn Plank when she found out about the money she was owed.

She could still spend more money if the city paid compound interest instead of just paying 4% interest. At compound interest, their $ 10 deposit would have at least kept pace with official inflation and would be worth around $ 144 today instead of $ 37 plus change.

Dispatch’s research found that many small businesses are among those most owed in bail money. The city holds nearly $ 342,000 as of March 1984 from 155 electricity customers owed more than $ 1,000 each, most of them restaurants that have undoubtedly been badly hit by COVID.

“Anyway, I’d love to get that money back,” said Sherrie Merchant, owner of Crosby’s Drugs and Home Health Care, located at 2609 N. High St., Clintonville. City records show the company currently owes $ 1,733 on a $ 800 security deposit that the family business paid in April 1992.

“Yeah, that’s our money,” said Merchant, noting that she was paying her bills on time.

“We want these dollars back”

Columbus Collegiate Academy West, a charter middle school for almost exclusively economically disadvantaged students in Franklinton, paid a down payment of $ 5,200 in June 2013 and is currently refunding a total of $ 6,866.

School founder Andrew Boy said the school lost track of it by the time The Dispatch contacted it, adding that the organization needed every dollar it could get from students for things like laptops.

“We want those dollars back,” said Boy. “We care about every dollar.”

The law assumes that voters will regulate the city’s electricity operations, so the rules of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio do not apply.

But when it does, under the Ohio Electric Customer’s Bill of Rights – a set of laws and regulations that govern what regulated private utilities in the state can ask their customers to do – no bail is required at all if customers do can “establish credit” with good credit or a history of prompt payments.

Only customers with suspicious credit can rate a down payment and then no more than 130% of an average monthly bill for that property, the Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) said. And after 12 months, a state-regulated utility company will have to “review your account and determine if the deposit should be paid back” based on whether you made timely payments during that period.

When you have paid your bill, the deposit must be refunded with 3% annual interest. Since it is repaid quickly, it is not so important whether the interest rates are compound.

Why Columbus can keep supply security for decades

But the city’s distribution of power does not follow these rules. According to their rules, new city electricity customers who rent regardless of creditworthiness are charged a deposit equal to twice the average monthly bill (approximately 54% more than regulated utilities) with a minimum deposit of $ 100. Those who appear to own can avoid paying a security deposit.

The city will not return the deposit until you close your account e.g. B. when the residents move into a new apartment or house. So it can often keep the money for decades.

When the day comes when a customer closes their account, they have to “claim the deposit back,” said public utility spokesman George Zonders. It is not automatically refunded.

It’s unclear how customers who opened their accounts decades ago should know – or even remember a down payment was made. The utility currently holds two deposits from the 1940s, those from Planks and one other customer from the 1950s, four from the 60s, 21 from the 70s, 58 from the 80s, and 111 from the 90s.

The city has 456 total deposits totaling more than $ 109,000 from the 2000s and nearly 4,000 totaling nearly $ 878,000 totaling deposits raised from 2010 to 2019, both capital and accrued interest will be taken into account.

The largest amount still held by the city is nearly $ 14,000. That figure includes the interest on a $ 8,800 security deposit paid by the 2006 Holiday Inn Columbus Downtown Capitol Square.

“We are currently reviewing our deposit policy to see what changes, if any, we would propose to the current code language,” said Zonders after The Dispatch discussed the findings.

It currently owes more than 8,400 customers in interest of more than $ 208,000, according to calculations by the City Division of Power.

Records show that Virginia Kearns, 86, of the South Side, currently owes $ 38.80 for a $ 10 down payment made in June 1949. She said the situation was confusing and worrying.

“How can you have any thoughts if you didn’t know it was there,” said Kearns. “You don’t know how long and you don’t know how much, and there are a lot of things you don’t know, especially when I was young and now I’m 86.”

Kearns grew up in the house in question and looked after her mother there until her death, she said.

“I probably won’t be here on this earth long,” she said. “Just donate it or keep it or whatever.”

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