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Published: Saturday, 7/16/2011

Asked and answered

Severe funding cuts in the new state budget have crippled the ability of the Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel to represent utility customers in rate cases and advise them on utility issues. So the state lawmakers and Kasich administration officials who supported the cut, as well as the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, had better be ready to pick up the slack.

The consumers' counsel is funded by fees on utility companies, not state revenues. Yet the new budget reduces the agency's funding from $8.5 million in the past fiscal year to $5.6 million next year. The office has laid off almost half its staff, closed its consumer call center, and made other cutbacks. The call center handled as many as 5,500 calls a month and helped more than 1,300 customers with disconnection issues, the agency says.

Advocates of the funding reduction for the consumers' counsel say PUCO's own call center can serve both consumers and utilities just as well. So you might want to call PUCO at (800) 686-7826 and see whether that's true.

Or you might want to call Gov. John Kasich's office directly, at (614) 466-3555, or the information line for state representatives and senators, (800) 282-0253. Consumer satisfaction surely is guaranteed.

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