Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty decided as part of the consolidation of the energy and environment agencies to eliminate a consumer services unit that fields thousands of calls every month from consumers with complaints about utility companies.
All 14 employees in the unit will be eliminated as the Department of Public Utility Control transforms into the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority under the merger of the two state agencies.
The layoffs which are unrelated to the pending labor package will take effect Sept. 1, which leaves Ken Marzik wondering who will answer the phone on Sept. 2.
Marzik, one of the employees who works in the unit and will be laid off as a result of its elimination, said in an email to CTNewsjunkie that “one of the most intriguing revelations behind this decision is the knowledge and history of the decision itself.”
“We cannot find any mention of the elimination of the unit in testimony, minutes, hearings or media releases. Did anyone in the legislature know of the demise of the unit? If so, who and when? Does the Governors office even have the slightest idea?,” Marzik wrote.
The unit provides information and assistance to consumers facing problems with gas, electric, cable, telephone and water companies. The questions from consumers range from billing issues to guidance on choosing an electricity provider. Some calls are related to more serious issues such as termination of service.
In 2009 the unit responded to 45,000 calls from consumers, which was up from 40,000 calls in fiscal year 2008.
“On average, every consumer who calls the DPUC get his or her call answered by a live representative in less than 60 seconds,” a report by the former state agency says. “CSU staff are responding to an ever increasing number of calls to the DPUC over the last three years, due in large part to the economic downturn, the inability of people to keep current with their bills, and greater interest by consumers to switch electric suppliers.”
Dennis Schain, spokesman for the DEEP, said the 14 layoffs and the decision to eliminate the unit was related strictly to the consolidation of the two agencies. He said the legislation which allowed for the merger to occur spelled out more broadly the role and the function of the new agency, but it was up to the commissioner and DEEP officials to figure out how best to implement those changes.
“There can be more effective and efficient ways to deal with this function,” Schain said Thursday. “A lot of these calls can be directed to the utility company.”
However, he said there are situations when a third party will need to be involved to resolve some of these disputes with utility companies and the commissioner and DEEP officials are looking at ways this function can be preserved. At the moment it’s unclear how and when that decision will be made.