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third person
08-12-2012, 12:48 AM
Hi, I'm a hardcore city boy from Manhattan that has NO clue about rural/country life. So obviously it's the kind of setting I'm using for my WIP. But while research and google maps can help me with the visuals, some things elude me--like how people pay for utilities. See, in my apartment building they're included in the rent. I've never paid a separate bill for water and power, etc.

So my question is, in extremely remote country areas how are utilities collected? Do representatives of the companies that provide them come to your house and take a payment directly? My main character in my WIP has heaps of cash in her house instead of a bank account. I'm trying to find a way that this character can pay for the utilities that won't make someone actually used to country life cringe.

Any and all help is appreciated. Thank you :).

Maryn
08-12-2012, 12:53 AM
Whatever entity owns the electrical lines and any natural gas lines (which may not exist in rural-enough areas) will bill you through the mail. Many accept online payments.

A customer may have to go into their offices to start service, or may be able to turn on services themselves and they'll stay on once they phone in who to bill at what mailing address. Credit checks and deposits would be up to the individual utility company and probably depend on how often billed usage cannot be collected.

The company I worked for took basic information on each new customer, enough to allow for skip tracing if they left without paying. Customers who'd had service turned off for non-payment (after multiple warning, both by mail and in person) usually had to pay a deposit at that point.

Electric companies either have the customer read his/her own electric (and gas) meter monthly or do estimated reads based on past usage for the same billing period. An employee would do a physical read every so often to confirm that they're in the right general range, since customers balk at a huge bill which evens things up with an actual read.

The rural person probably has only electricity from a company. Most use propane in place of natural gas, and a well in place of municipal water.

Maryn, who cut her teeth at Tucson Gas & Electric Company

WeaselFire
08-12-2012, 01:13 AM
You get a bill, you pay it. It really is that simple.

Jeff

firedrake
08-12-2012, 01:24 AM
In the small AZ town I lived in, we had the option to pay online, phone, mail or you could go to their office and pay, depending on the provider. Our town had at least 2 different electricity providers, all of them local. APS (Arizona Public Service was the biggest). One of the smaller ones was run by the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) and you could go to their office and pay them. Likewise, Arizona Water had a small office in town where you could pay. They were a bit behind the times, they didn't have an online payment service set up when we lived there.

benbenberi
08-12-2012, 02:01 AM
It's possible that if the utility co. does not have a local office of their own, they may have instead a local bill-payment arrangement where someone can come to pay their bill in person (e.g. at a supermarket or drugstore customer-service area). If you have a specific location in mind for your story you can probably find the actual details (company names, office & payment policies) that would apply.

Or she may have to buy money orders at the bank or post office to pay by mail.

Cash-only living is increasingly difficult in the modern world.

cornflake
08-12-2012, 02:22 AM
It's possible that if the utility co. does not have a local office of their own, they may have instead a local bill-payment arrangement where someone can come to pay their bill in person (e.g. at a supermarket or drugstore customer-service area). If you have a specific location in mind for your story you can probably find the actual details (company names, office & payment policies) that would apply.

Or she may have to buy money orders at the bank or post office to pay by mail.

Cash-only living is increasingly difficult in the modern world.

This is, I'd point out, the same way it is in Manhattan, where I've never had an apt. with utilities included (except water), nor has anyone I can think of actually - though I know they exist. You can go pay the bill at some check-cashing places or other deals, like some Best Buys take Time Warner payments and what have you, some places take ConEd.

But yes, rural places send you a proper bill, that you pay like a bill. Now most places have options to do automatic electronic deductions, again like ConEd and the phone bill, or pay online or send a check or money order or etc.

I've never heard of anyplace where a representative goes around collecting $, these are utility companies, they're proper deals.

Chris1981
08-12-2012, 02:35 AM
I go outside, write down the numbers currently displayed on my meter, and use the electric co-operative's Web site to report that meter reading. They figure out my bill, mail it to me (God knows why they bother with that, as I do have an online account with them), and I pay online with my debit card.

If I feel like paying cash, I drop in at their office, which is probably twenty-something miles from the house. It's conveniently located near the Walmart that's the only place in the community to buy a lot of stuff, but I'm extraordinarily lazy.

That's the only utility I have, and the only one the electric co-op provides. My appliances and such are all electric and I have a well for water.

Incidentally, I can either pay $70 a month for a private trash company to haul off my trash (after I lug it half a mile up my private road to the county road, as that's where they insist on installing their box) or I can just burn it. So, on a regular basis, I get to start fires. It's not nearly as entertaining as one might think. :)

WriteKnight
08-12-2012, 02:38 AM
So my question is, in extremely remote country areas how are utilities collected? Do representatives of the companies that provide them come to your house and take a payment directly? My main character in my WIP has heaps of cash in her house instead of a bank account. I'm trying to find a way that this character can pay for the utilities that won't make someone actually used to country life cringe.

Any and all help is appreciated. Thank you :).[/QUOTE]

This assumes you don't want to deal with direct withdrawal from a bank account - sounds like your MC doesn't trust banks.

It sounds like you want your MC to make cash payments for utilities in some manner that is 'normal' for a rural resident. Yes - one can usually go to an office, or more likely a grocery store or 'check cashing' sort of place to pay utilities. I've lived in several rural towns, and often the large grocery store will have a customer service window where one can pay utility bills. Take the bill in, hand them the cash - it's paid for. The bill itself will arrive in the mail. Something your character could do as part of their grocery shopping.

shadowwalker
08-12-2012, 02:46 AM
All of the above. Lately, some people are putting up their own windmills or have solar panels to produce their own electricity (and which the electric companies then pay them for). Propane gas, private wells and septic systems simply because municipal lines can't possibly go out that far. Our garbage haulers do collect 'residential' type garbage from farmsteads, and everyone's bill for that is included in the utility bill.

jaksen
08-12-2012, 04:13 AM
You write a check, put it in an envelope (or the one the utility co. sends to your house) and mail it at the post office. If you do not have a checking acct., you can pay in cash at many stores. This is an old service that goes back decades, but it still exists at many of the supermarkets in my area.

Saanen
08-12-2012, 05:32 AM
I live in a tiny town in a rural area and I get my utilities bills in the mail. I have city water, which includes sewage and trash pickup, and get a separate bill from the utility company in the next town over, which covers electricity (I don't have gas in my house although I have neighbors who do). I can mail my payments or drop them off at the office. I usually go to the drive-in window of the utility co. to drop off my check, but last time I had to go inside for something I noticed people paying cash. I don't know if cash is accepted at the water board.

I have a coworker who lives farther out in the country than I do. She has a well and a septic system so doesn't pay anything for water.

frimble3
08-12-2012, 07:32 AM
The 'representatives go door-to-door and take cash' doesn't really make sense. The householder would have to go to town to get the cash in the first place, so why not pay then? Because what's worse? Letting people know that you live all alone in the middle of nowhere with a big sack of cash, or letting people know that every month you'll be going out into the middle of nowhere, picking up a bunch of cash and then returning by the same lonely road? Neither sounds safe.

blacbird
08-12-2012, 07:37 AM
It would be hard these days to find someone with electrical power from the public grid who doesn't get billed in the normal way everyone else does, no matter how remote their place of residence seems to be. New Yorkers really need to get out more.

caw

third person
08-12-2012, 08:45 AM
or I can just burn it. So, on a regular basis, I get to start fires. It's not nearly as entertaining as one might think. :)

Burning your own trash? This concept is so wildly alien to me...I need to get out of the city and see things.

Thank you everyone, my question was answered with much satisfaction :)

shaldna
08-12-2012, 09:35 AM
We're not in the states, be we are as rural as you get here.

We get bills through the post, or you can set up direct debits - this is where the money automatically goes from your bank account to theirs. You can also take the bill into a post office or bank and pay across the counter in cash, or you can send a cheque.

You can also get meters - we have one for the electric - you have a swipe card that you can 'load' at most shops (like topping up a phone card) and it gives you a code to put into your electricity meter to credit your account.

Things like bin collection, water and sewage is paid for through your rates bill - which is calculated on the value of your house.

This is where I get annoyed - we have one bin collected a fortnight and we have a septic tank, so we're not even using the sewage system yet we still pay almost twice in rates what my parents pay in the city.



Burning your own trash? This concept is so wildly alien to me...I need to get out of the city and see things.

It's the only way to get rid of it sometimes. We burn most things - including the used wood shavings that come out of the stables, weeds, rubbish and any wood/gorse that we need to get rid of.

We also don't use the mains water (the 'good' water) for the animals - they all get watered from the well and pump.

Also, as for heating - we don't have gas as the gas mains don't come within 20 miles of our house, so home heating is all oil (or if you are really wealthy you can get a woodchip burner installed) or no heating at all. We rely on the fire a lot - coal and logs.

To get home heating oil we call up the fuel depot and they send a diver out to fill the tank. We can pay the driver, or we can pay over the phone when placing the order.

jaksen
08-12-2012, 05:24 PM
Burning your own trash? This concept is so wildly alien to me...I need to get out of the city and see things.

Thank you everyone, my question was answered with much satisfaction :)

There are laws that regulate this in many areas, esp. in these widely-spread drought conditions, however...

When I was a child, up into my late 20's, we burned our trash on a regular basis. (Small New England town, about 20 miles south of Boston.) We had a huge old barrel that we stuffed the trash in, lit it, and watched it go. When I was around ten, this was one of my chores. (And yes, we had indoor plumbing, a dishwasher, electricity, etc. hehe.) I was always told to remove the aerosol cans first. (Yes, we had pressurized cans for stuff then.) Because they'd heat up and go 'boom!'

Of course I threw the cans in to explode them. Of course I loved watching all the birds in the surrounding trees take off. Of course I told my parents, when they heard the boom, that I'd 'missed' one of the cans.

But yes, burning one's trash happened in the past, still happens today, but one needs a permit now - and usually it's not trash one burns, but wood, brush, grass from clearing an area.

One more story: my mom used to burn debris (grass, leaves, etc.) every spring and fall. She'd get a huge area cleared (in our vegetable garden) and have the garden hose ready and burn. Almost everyone in her neighborhood did the same. Well, one day the fire spread, toward her house and garage. The fire dept. arrived. They didn't give her a permit to burn after that.

Oh, that's what it's called, a permit to burn. Usually given out in March, April or October, November.

And I have seen older people pay their bills at the 'courtesy desk' in local supermarkets. They need to have the bill in hand, they give it and the cash to the person at the desk and receive a receipt. The supermarket charges a token fee for the service (like .25 or so per bill) and will pay electric, gas, water, etc. for the customer. I once asked my mother why some people do this and she said they 'didn't believe in banks.'

My husband paid his bills like this, too, when I first met him. He had no checking or bank account at the time. He got his paycheck and also cashed it a supermarket.

shadowwalker
08-12-2012, 05:59 PM
We live in a small town and used to burn our trash in a big metal can next to the alley. And every fall we'd have a huge bonfire at the side of the road - the corner grocer would watch to see how big the leaf pile got, so he'd know when to order extra hot dogs and marshmallows. Then the whole neighborhood would show up for the bonfire and playing kick the can until well after dark. But then sometime in the 70s everyone got all hot and bothered about air pollution so we couldn't even have our marshmallow roast in the fall. :(

ULTRAGOTHA
08-13-2012, 05:03 AM
Electricity: As said, you get a bill and can pay it through the mail or on line or by direct withdrawal from your checking account. Your MC can take her bill and go to some payment station with cash.

Telephone: Treat exactly like electricity. You can also often get DSL even in the sticks now a days. We had dial-up in the mid to late 90s which worked well at the time before heavily graphic web sites.

Water: If she's rural enough, she doesn't get a water bill, she has her own well and pays the electricity for the pump.

Sewer: If she's rural enough, she doesn't get a sewer bill, she has her own septic tank and calls every few years for a pump-out. For which they would probably send her a bill and not allow the driver to take cash. If you're very good to your septic tank it will go for ages between pumps. The two of us sold our rural house after three years and were required by the buyer to pump out the septic tank (as is usual). In three years there was almost no accumulation because we'd treated it so well that the bacteria count was dealing with the solids quite well. No one would blink if you didn't deal with a septic bill.

Heat: If she heats with oil she'll have an oil tank. As it gets close to empty she will call the oil company and make an appointment for them to fill it up (or sometimes they come at their schedule and bill you but given what you've said about wads of cash I imagine she'd prefer a previous appointment). I doubt she'd pay the oil guy in cash, though. I can't imagine his company would allow it. IF she heats with oil she probably cooks with electricity.

Heat and Cooking: If she heats and cooks with gas, she'll have an LPG gas tank, ditto. She probably wouldn't have both oil and LPG.

Other heat: she could also heat with a pellet stove or wood stoves or some kind of wood burning furnace. If she's not the kind to haul and cut her own firewood she can order it from a firewood supplier and it's far more common to pay them with cash.

As for trash, if she's rural enough she may not have trash collection at all. We didn't and we were only 40 minutes from a major city. We took our trash whenever we wanted to a transfer station down the road. We didn't pay extra, it was paid for by taxes. Some rural areas charge extra even for a transfer station. The transfer station was surrounded by a chain link fence and open certain days and times. The actual trash compactor was about the size of a semi trailer and painted blue.

Cable: It's not common to have cable run to back of beyond rural so if she does want more on her TV than she can get over the airwaves it's either a small satellite dish or one of those large 6-foot jobs. Sigh. I miss my 6-foot satellite dish. We could cherry pick channels and an entire year of every channel we wanted was $120 (back in the mid to late 90s). We paid that bill yearly. It was mailed to us and we returned a check. Small satellite dish companies will bill monthly.

Niniva
08-13-2012, 08:22 AM
Um, I'm sure I'm late on this, but we just drive into town and pay them in person. Some places require you to buy a money order first.