BGE is closing payment center at Mondawmin Mall

West-side customers lament loss of free tellers, convenience

Utilities

June 24, 2000|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. said it will close its Mondawmin Mall bill payment center - the only one convenient to the western areas of Baltimore city and county - next month.

BGE decided to close the payment center "as part of an ongoing analysis of the effectiveness of having tellers," Brenda L. Pettigrew, a company spokeswoman, said yesterday.

An industry trend toward closing teller locations combined with a recent sharp rent increase at Mondawmin made the decision prudent, Pettigrew said.

The closing - set for July 28 - will save the utility about $200,000 a year, she said.

BGE has rented space in the mall at least since the 1980s, Mondawmin officials said yesterday.

Tellers at the mall will be transferred to BGE's payment centers in the lobby of its headquarters at 39 W. Lexington St. and at Eastpoint Mall in eastern Baltimore County, Pettigrew said.

"There are no talks about closing the other two payment centers, but we are always monitoring our business practices," Pettigrew said.

Customers can also pay through the mail, at drop boxes at BGE HOME stores, or have payments deducted from their checking account or credit card over the phone.

BGE also has bill payment arrangements with about 40 businesses - including banks, liquor stores and supermarkets - in the three ZIP codes near Mondawmin Mall where customers can pay their bills, the utility said.

"We haven't left our customers stranded," Pettigrew said.

But customers say those businesses charge them anywhere from $1 to $11.50 to pay their bills, while teller services were free and convenient.

"A lot of people have a lot of reasons for wanting to pay their bills in person, and Mondawmin is a convenient place to do that," said Cheryl Edwards, who works near the mall and drove there to pay her bill during her lunch break.

"They say you can pay over the phone, but not all people have phones or checking accounts or credit cards," said Tony Henson, of Woodlawn, who paid his bill at Mondawmin yesterday.

Customers also say some of BGE's business practices will make the payment center's closing harder to take.

For example, when customers are sent a service termination notice or if they want their service restored the same day it was turned off, they must pay the bill over the phone or in person. Those cases aren't handled by most of the 40 businesses where one can pay BGE bills.

BGE has acknowledged that it has made its termination policy more aggressive, sharply increasing the number of cutoffs in the past few years to residential customers who fall behind in paying their bills.

"BGE people are the worst in the world to talk to and try to work with," said May Short, a customer who lives near the mall. "It seems like they are always doing something to the people, and they always get away with it."

Early yesterday afternoon, the line at the payment center was about 20 deep and growing as customers waited their turn, with one of the five tellers working.

Notices were posted around the payment center alerting customers to the impending closing. And customers could pick up a fact sheet - containing numbers and addresses of other places where they can pay their bills.

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