By DAVID McGEE, Bristol Herald Courier
Rather than get upset about his $350 electric bill, John Almany found a unique way to pay it — in pennies.
Almany said he and his brother Gary came up with the idea in January. After finding enough banks to supply the pennies, Almany delivered more than 29,000 to Bristol Virginia Utilities.
"I thought I'd make light of the situation," Almany said. "Everybody gets mad, but there's nothing anyone can do about it."
Their first challenge, Almany said, was finding that many pennies.
"I called some nearby banks to see if I could exchange cash for pennies," Almany said. "We got all the way to the w's in the phone book. One bank gave me $170 in pennies and the other $123."
After trading in the cash, Almany and his brother spent about an hour removing the coins from the 50-cent rolls and dumping them into two large, black duffle bags.
That many pennies weighs about 170 pounds, so the two men worked to carry the duffle bags into BVU's Lee Highway office.
"We pulled into BVU about 2 (p.m.) and took the bags of unrolled pennies to the pay counter," Almany said. "To make my case better, I noticed a man just paid cash right before me. I laid my bill on the counter and told the lady, 'Here is my bill and I'm here to pay every penny of it.'"
After about 20 seconds of silence, Almany then explained what that meant.
"She seemed shocked and told me, 'We can't take that.' She said we'd have to wrap that up and repeated they couldn't accept it. I asked her if she was refusing my payment and she said she wasn't," Almany said. "They said they didn't have the manpower to count all those pennies and I said as much as BVU is billing its customers, they ought to have all the manpower they need."
Brian Bolling, BVU's vice president of customer service, declined to respond to questions about Almany and his payment.
In an e-mail, Bolling wrote that BVU has enacted a payment policy.
"With respect to coins used for said payment, the following restrictions are imposed to prevent overburdening of the cashier operations of BVU due to time and weight issues, which restrictions are reasonable and do not constitute a refusal to accept coins as legal tender," Bolling wrote.
The policy includes acceptance of no more than $10 in unrolled coins, while rolled coins "of any denomination up to 20 rolls will be accepted for each dollar of any one payment to BVU." There are no limitations on paper money.
Almany said BVU employees held a prolonged discussion with supervisors before eventually accepting his coins. They then spent about two hours counting just $26.
"They brought the rest back up because they were getting ready to close," Almany said. "The lady told me to come back Monday and they would count the rest."
With his point made, Almany said he took the rest of the pennies to a coin machine, and paid the balance of his bill in larger forms of cash a few days later.
Was it worth the trouble?
"It was worth every penny," Almany said.