Chetopa, Kansas woman speaks out after electricity is turned off by city

CHETOPA, Kan. – It’s something Sharmon Vaugn never thought would happen.

“I was standing in my closet and the electric went out,” says Vaugn.

The city had pulled her electric meter and shut her water off.

“I called them and said, yeah, my electric is off. And she said yeah, you didn’t pay the 113 over on your contract,” says Vaugn.

She says for the two years that she’s lived in Chetopa she’s paid her electric bill on time — and, for the most part, this time was no different.

City officials explain after the arctic blast came through the four-states in February, the city had to pay more than a hundred thousand dollars for electricity. Since Chetopa runs their own electric utility, residents would have to cover that cost.

Meaning Vaugn had a $2200 utility bill for March. $1500 of that was for fuel adjustments because of the skyrocketing cost of natural gas and electricity during the arctic blast.

“It normally runs between five and six hundred,” explains Vaugn. “It was devastation almost for one month bill that would equal three months easily.”

In response, the city let residents split that bill up over a 15 month period. Normally the agreement period would be 10 months, but the state extended the period required to 15 months because of the pandemic. In Vaugn’s case, that added another $113 on top of her normal monthly bill.

“I had told them I am signing this under duress because there’s nothing else I can do,” says Vaugn. “I can’t afford this. No one can afford this.”

She says she was able to do it for a few months, but in May, after paying her normal monthly bill, she wasn’t able to afford the extra. So she wasn’t surprised to see her electricity shut off — but says she didn’t get a notice in the mail beforehand. Tuesday she learned why.

“I’ve been told by the city that it’s on the back of your bill. We don’t send shutoff notices,” says Vaugn. “That would have been nice to know.”

City officials also tell us that Vaugn wasn’t the first resident to be shut off, and that four other’s electricity was shut off at the same time. All of them being because they didn’t pay the extra amount. We were told that residents would have to bring their bills current to get their power turned back on — in Vaugn’s case, that was more than $1500.

“Do I need to find something to put.. take my stuff out of my fridge? Do I leave my fridge doors shut? Do I leave my deep freeze shut?” says Vaugn. “That’s what we’re facing.”

Right after she received her February bill, she applied for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) through the Kansas Department for Children and Families. She says she qualified, but needed to get a shut off notice from the city to get the ball rolling. Between her and our communication with the city, the shut off notice and other needed paperwork was sent to the Kansas Department for Children and Families, and LIEAP paid her past balance. So her electricity is back on, but she’s not sure what other’s will do who may be in the same situation. The deadline to apply for LIEAP was May 28th.

“I know there are people that are struggling making this because I’ve got friends that have talked about it,” says Vaugn. “I would like to see something happen with this.”

The city treasurer, who mans the city’s utilities department right now, says if you need paperwork for LIEAP they are more than happy to provide it.

City officials also encourage residents who’s electricity has been shut off to attend the nearest city council meeting, so an individualized plan can be discussed. City council meetings are on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at City Hall. The Treasurer also tells us residents don’t have to be on the agenda beforehand to speak at a city council meeting.