PAYETTE - What can people expect if paying their utility bills becomes an issue should their employment become affected by current events? In response to the novel coronavirus COVID-19, the Payette City Council during their regular meeting on April 6 discussed the prospect of moving back shut-off dates for those individuals who will struggle to pay their water and sewer bills due to related financial hardship.
The meeting was conducted via the Zoom online application due to COVID.
City Clerk Mary Cordova pointed out that several residents were rushing to put down deposits on their accounts in case such hardship should happen to them. The next round of disconnects was originally scheduled for April 14, according to Cordova.
“We’ve had a lot of payments, and it seems like we’ve had a lot more people … paying more on their bill than normal,” Cordova told the Council. “I don’t know what that list is going to look like come the 14th; I know that Idaho Power, for instance, is not going to do any shutoffs but they will do a payment arrangement with those people who are on their cutoff list.”
Councilor Daniel Lopez motioned to move the April shutoff date to May 14.
“I believe that we should just hold off on shutoffs until we’re fully operational again,” said Lopez.
Councilor Lori Steiniker seconded the motion.
Councilor Ray Wickersham wanted to clarify for residents that this motion merely moves shutoffs back and does not pause billing.
“The only thing I’d want to make sure is that people understand the billing is still going out, they’re just not being shut off if they can’t pay it at that point,” said Wickersham.
Williams added that while he doesn’t personally know who’s on the list of customers to be shut off, he does hear from Water and Sewer Department staff that some customers are frequently listed.
“Some of these people … we may not be doing them a favor,” Williams acknowledged. “Some of these delinquent accounts, it’s a livelihood for them, I guess. It’s unfortunate, but that’s where they’re at.”
Cordova clarified that shutoffs occur only when customers are 60 days delinquent in paying their bills.
“It has the potential to perpetuate and get pretty big,” said Cordova regarding the amounts due per customer.
She recommends having delinquent customers sign agreements for payment arrangements.
Lopez then amended his motion to include Cordova’s recommendation, with customers refusing to agree to a payment plan remaining subject to further action.
City Attorney Dan Chadwick advised the Council to be aware of any potential for unfairness in implementing this measure and to plan accordingly.
“This is new territory for everybody, anyway,” Chadwick said. “The obligation is to collect what is due to the city and not place the burden on other ratepayers or taxpayers.”
The roll-call vote to approve the measure was unanimous.
The city will reach out to customers on the shutoff list via telephone, email or door-hanger notice. Payment arrangements are made individually. Any customers who’s water is shutoff would need to pay their bill in full, plus a reconnect fee, to get their water turned back on.