Customer complaints rise amid slow propane delivery

COLUMBIA STATION - Amid frigid temperatures, some local propane customers said they fear losing heat because of slow response by their propane company to refill emptying fuel tanks.

Medina-based Thrifty Propane, which has about 50,000 customers in nine states, said it’s delivering within the terms and conditions to which customers have agreed.

Customer Neil Coffin, of Columbia Station, said the company refilled his tank Thursday, two weeks after he first called to request a delivery.

“I'd call and then I'd re-call again. Never got a call back,” he said. “I was getting scared because I was thinking we're really getting low here, so we turned the heat down.”

He said he prepaid $1,000 for propane for the season. That rate is below the company’s competitors. His family bundled up and worried about pipes freezing, with little response to his phone calls.

“I was getting desperate, and there was nowhere to turn,” he said. “Something's got to be done about it. I understand it was winter and Christmas and all that stuff, but the rudeness of not calling back, saying, ‘We got your order.’ No.”

Thrifty Propane customers have filed more than 200 complaints with the Better Business Bureau, leading to a “D” rating. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office said it received 69 complaints about the company since the beginning of 2017, with 26 of them filed since December 1.

Josh Krager, of LeRoy Township, said at least eight phone calls his family placed to the company went unreturned.

With his propane tank nearing empty amid single digit temperatures, he said he called another company, which delivered within a day. Though he was part of Thrifty Propane’s pre-buy program, Krager said he had to pay an additional $1,000 for the additional company’s delivery, which he could receive because he owns his tank.

“We live in Northeast Ohio. They need to be prepared for an onslaught of cold weather and have enough trucks available and people to answer the phone and return calls,” Krager said.

Thrifty Propane President Angela Maloof said the company is meeting contract terms with pre-buy program customers allowing for up to 15 business days for delivery.

“We are doing the best we can, and we're keeping up, but I believe some of these people are panicking,” Maloof said, adding that there are no delays in the deliveries. “I understand it's very cold, but we are within our terms.”

She said the company is doing its best to return customer calls and supply is not an issue, though weather conditions have affected deliveries.

“I ask them not to panic, and we're making every effort possible to get to them,” Maloof said, asking for patience.

Maloof encouraged customers to call for a refill when tanks are still at above 30 percent and be honest about their propane level, allowing the company to better prioritize delivery.

Past consumer complaints prompted the Attorney General’s Office to file a lawsuit against Thrifty Propane in 2016. Under an agreement, the company did not admit wrongdoing but was ordered to change its practices and pay $25,000.

The Attorney General's office said it is monitoring current complaints.

“Consumer complaints are an important source of information and can help us monitor compliance,” spokesperson Kate Hanson said. “We are reviewing each complaint individually and working to assist consumers.”

Hanson said consumers can contact the office at www.OhioProtects.org or by calling 1-800-282-0515