For years members of Southeast Colorado Power Association (SECPA) in District 3 have been able to walk-in their electric utility payments to the office located on East 14th Street in Eads. That is no longer the case as now when you attempt to enter the building you are instead greeted by a sign at the inside door that states, “The office is closed. Please use the drop box or call: 1-800-332-8634 for assistance.” There is no further indication whether this office is closed for the day or indefinity or for good. A phone call to the number listed on the note rings into the La Junta main office for SECPA. When speaking to one of the staff members there the answer is, “The office is currently closed due to the employee retiring, and they are unsure of the plans for reopening the office.”
On April 22, 2021 SECPA held their annual membership meeting in order to elect District 2 and District 6 Directors. Kiowa County and a small southern portion of Cheyenne and Lincoln Counties make up District 3. That district’s elected Director is Brad Buck from Eads. The annual meeting was held digitally via a ZOOM link during a time of day, at 2:00 pm, when most cooperative members are at work. There were also specific instructions on how to email your questions posted on the SECPA Facebook page. CEO Jack Johnson answered those questions during a Q&A session as part of the meeting.
The Kiowa County Independent submitted a number of questions trying to ascertain as to whether the Eads office was indeed closed, why, and whether they considered the loss of a job and the closing of another building as a concern for their cooperative members in the Eads area. We also inquired as to why La Junta has hired an additional full-time employee in the same time period that the Eads employee, Kim Harris, retired. The Independent followed up in an April 26 email to CEO Jack Johnson for further clarification.
During the online meeting last Wednesday CEO Johnson responded to the questions submitted by the Independent. As to whether the Eads office will be reopened, Johnson indicated, “At this time, we have no immediate plans to reopen the Eads office.” In the follow up email on Monday, Johnson did indicate the line crews, currently two employees, will still be working out of the facility and in the future if something changes with the business needs of SECPA the office could be re-opened and an employee hired.
Mr. Johnson also noted that walk-in traffic has been declining to the Eads office and online and telephone traffic was increasing. In the follow up email, Mr. Johnson agreed that the COVID pandemic did further decrease the walk-in traffic. In the follow-up email addressing the question concerning the hiring of an additional full-time employee in the La Junta office Johnson says, “We did not just decide to replace a part-time position in Eads with a full-time position in La Junta. We were already planning to backfill a full-time position in La Junta since a Member Services Representative retired. We had been holding off on filling that position for quite some time. When the part time employee in Eads resigned, we carefully analyzed the situation and decided that a full-time person in La Junta would be able to help with the many additional duties that are not even performed at our remote offices as well as be available to take member calls 10 hours a day instead of 4 hours, which would provide better service to our entire membership. Every time we have a personnel change, we carefully evaluate the needs of the company with a constant eye towards costs and efficiency, which ultimately affect the rates our members pay. We are proud to say we have not had a rate increase since 2015 and we hope to hold rates for as long as possible.”
Johnson did state that SECPA is looking to partner with GN-Bank in Eads to handle walk in payments. “Just give us time.” Johnson states as to when to expect that to be available to local members.
Lastly, in our follow up email we asked about the payments that are still being dropped into the drop box located at East 14th Street in Eads. To this Mr. Johnson replied, “The drop box payments are collected and transferred to one of the other offices for posting. The drop box is always checked before any late fees are assessed or any meters are disconnected for non-payment.”
With the closure of the Eads office, and apparently no plans to reopen it, this is one less job, albeit part-time, that provides for a family in Kiowa County. It also means another office won’t be buying office supplies from local stores or spending their own salary on local groceries or other services provided by the small business community. Yes, SECPA is a business and must be accountable for the cooperative’s investments, revenues and costs. However, it is also a community cooperative that was established for the good of the whole. Is it equitable for the members in Kiowa County to not have the same services and personnel available for its needs?
The Independent reached out to District 3 Director Brad Buck via email to get his take on losing the Eads office. Buck represents the cooperative members in a wide swath of the coverage area, including Eads. At press time, we had not received a reply from Buck. We hope to still hear from Buck in the future.
If you would like to contact District Director Brad Buck or CEO Jack Johnson concerning the closing of the Eads SECPA office, you will need to (snail)mail your questions or concerns to Brad Buck, Director District 3, Southeast Colorado Power Assn., PO Box 521, La Junta, CO 81050. The director is only accessible via mail sent directly to the SECPA office instead of a phone number or even an email address posted on the website.
In addition, each member can call the 1-800 number and receive customer service, forms can be emailed, printed, signed, scanned, and emailed or mailed to the La Junta office. Even though through technology, anything can be accomplished, nothing takes the place of a smiling face behind a desk willing to help.
While we wait for further instructions from Southeast Colorado Power Association on how and when to make payments with GN-Bank, please continue to use the drop box located at the Eads office, call the number listed on your bill to make payments over the phone, or pay online.
Residents of District 3 were blessed with Kim Harris for 13 years as the member service representative in the Eads office. She did a fantastic job and went the extra mile to ensure exceptional and professional service was provided to the cooperative members of the community. The Independent thanks Kim Harris for her years of dedication.