Despite record cold temperatures, and record costs for heat, Maryland residents and business are paying their utility bills almost as fast and as frequently as in the past.
According to spokesmen for Washington Gas Light Company and Potomac Electric Power Company, the two largest utilities in the Maryland suburbs that provide heat, delinquency rates rose this winter by between 8 and 14 per cent.
Both companies said the effect on their cash flow, their service, their scheduled repairs and their readiness for next winter has been minimal.
There are two reasons, spokesman said:
Both companies offered specially extended time payment plans to customers who fell into arrears on their bills. And both companies made extensive efforts to contact delinquents personally so terms could be arranged.
In addition, both companies suspended long-standing policies of cutting off service automatically once a bill went unpaid for two months.
Pepco instituted a no-turnoff policy Dec. 17, and suspended it March 23. Washington Gas instituted it Jan. 31, and has not rescinded it, although the company plans to "soon," a spokeswoman said.
Both companies said that no significant number of customers has taken advantage of the no-turnoff policy.
Pepco spokesman John Grasser said that of 458,900 Pepco customers in the metropolitan area, 8 per cent were in arrears at the end of February. At the end of February, 1976, the delinquency figure was 5 per cent. At the end of February, 1975, the figure was 6 per cent, Grasser said.
No figures were available for Pepco's Maryland customers alone, Grasser said.
Pepco serves the District, the Maryland suburbs and a handful of customers in Northern Virginia.
A Washington Gas spokeswoman said her company's delinquency rate at the end of February was "about 14 per cent" above the previous February's.
In February 1976 Washington Gas delinquents totaled approximately 35,000. This February, the spokeswoman said, the total was 39,681 - 13,328 in Maryland, 18,867 in the District and 7,486 in Northern Virginia.