The U.S. Postal Service is investigating the cause behind hundreds of delayed bills and payments between the Murray Electric System utility company and its customers this month.
Postal Service spokesperson David Walton said his office has been trying to track down where the interruption in mail service occurred after many Murray Electric customers failed to receive their bills this month and officials with the utility say last month, payments were delayed.
Murray Electric Customer Service Manager Dale Hughes said he first noticed a problem on March 26 when he ran a system payment report and noticed about $349,000 in outstanding bills. Typically, he said, that number hovers around the $32,000-$46,000 mark.
So Hughes said he began reviewing payment history for the bills that had been due March 15. About $300,000 of those came from among Murray Electric’s largest customers – most of whom regularly pay their bills well ahead of the due date. When Hughes called those customers up, he said almost all of them told him that they mailed their payments in already – a week, in most cases, before the due date.
Financial Manager Rob Thompson said MES was forced to borrow money from BB&T Bank to meet its own obligations with the Tennessee Valley Authority. The utility owed almost $1.5 million last month, and Thompson said he knew the account would be left relatively shallow without the missing payments.
Then this month, Hughes said many customers complained that they never received their bills before the April 15 due date. He has records indicating that the bills were mailed on April 1, but many customers did not receive the bills until April 17.
When Hughes said he went to speak to Murray Postmaster Sean Clark about the mail delays, he couldn’t meet with him directly. Instead, Hughes said a postal worker relayed messages back to Clark, who, Hughes said, turned out to be not all that helpful.
“He said there wasn’t anything they could do about it and there wasn’t any way they could track the mail,” Hughes said. “I’ve been doing this job for 15 years now, and I didn’t come out there to point any fingers, but I wanted to alert the Post Office of the problem.”
Hughes said he was disappointed with the way the situation was handled, but when MES General Manager Tony Thompson spoke to USPS Regional Manager Chris Carol, Hughes said postal authorities assured the utility that the matter would be investigated.
Clark was reached but unable to comment, due to USPS policy.
Hughes said he has wondered if recent reports of a mail processing facility closure in Paducah could be behind the slower mail service, but Walton, with the Postal Service, said that’s unlikely. MES bills are shipped by a third-party company in Greenville, South Carolina. Because of that, Walton said the delay likely occurred in a processing facility nowhere near western Kentucky, and it might have been something has simple as human error.
As for bill payments, Walton said any mail sent from a zip code beginning with 420- is processed in Evansville, Indiana. Hughes has said he’s noticed process marks on payments from both Evansville and Nashville, Tennessee.
Watson said the reasons behind that are all part of the regional investigation, and the USPS, he said, has a commitment to finding out what happened so it would happen again.
“We want to get to the bottom of this as much as Murray Electric does,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to pinpoint exactly where the error occurred.”
Watson said officials investigating the delayed mail could come to a conclusion as early as later this week. Hughes said the utility company is expecting to hear back from the regional office today.