Media Contacts: Beth Gianforcaro (614) 466-9491
Marty Berkowitz (614) 387-2962
COLUMBUS, Ohio – July 8, 2011 – The enactment of the State of Ohio's two-year budget legislation will significantly reduce the level of advocacy and customer services the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel (OCC) provides to Ohio's 4.5 million residential utility households. The new budget, which took effect July 1, will reduce the OCC's operating budget from $8.5 million to $5.6 million the first year with an additional cut to $4.1 million the following fiscal year. As the OCC is not funded through Ohio's General Revenue Fund, these cuts do not help balance the state's budget.
"As a result of these reductions, which cut the agency budget in half, the OCC will have to greatly curtail and, in some cases, eliminate its representation and the resources needed to look out for the best interests of Ohio's utility customers," said Consumers' Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander.
In addition to the budget reductions, several amendments to state law eliminated the OCC's ability to handle complaints through its call center and included language regarding the agency's advocacy on retail natural gas marketing issues. As a result of the budget cuts, the OCC is taking the following steps:
Reducing representation and active participation in cases currently before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and other regulatory forums. Currently, as the legal representative for Ohio's residential utility consumers in state and federal courts and before the PUCO, the OCC is involved in close to 300 cases initiated by the utilities, mostly seeking increases to customer rates. Under the new budget, the OCC will have resources to advocate in fewer than half of these cases. This will significantly impact all utility customers, residential and business alike.
Cease responding to customer complaints about their utility service. Between 2008 and 2011, the OCC call center staff responded to 3,500-5,500 interactions per month and helped more than 1,300 customers avoid disconnection or have their utility services restored. Due to the budget cuts, the OCC has closed its call center. Customers with utility complaints should contact the PUCO.
Drastically scaling back its outreach and education program. During 2010, the OCC reached 46,000 Ohioans through its outreach and education efforts. Staff members gave more than 500 educational presentations attended by about 12,000 customers explaining, among other topics, complicated changes to utility laws and offering tips about energy conservation to customers seeking to lower their utility bills. Customers can still obtain information about utility issues through the interactive OCC website, www.pickocc.org.
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