Back in March, the City of Ontario, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, suspended utility shutoffs due to non-payment which would apply to April statements and each issued thereafter.
During Tuesday night’s regular meeting of the Ontario City Council, City Manager Adam Brown revisited the matter with the council.
“When the pandemic began back in March, I believe we made the decision in April to suspend shutoffs. And that’s been pretty consistent with what’s going on in the rest of the state,” said Brown.
He went on to explain how it’s also become a common practice nationwide to temporarily suspend utility shutoffs. Brown then said that it is now becoming more common, also, for those same cities to begin the process of resuming shutoffs. He said now is the right time because people are getting back to work, or at least have the opportunity to.
Brown said that before he directed staff to resume the enforcement of utility shutoffs, he wanted to hear from the council and get their thoughts on the matter.
Councilor Freddy Rodriguez asked Brown why “now” is the time to resume enforcing shutoffs orders based on the idea of people getting back to work.
“What are the metrics we are gauging this readiness on?” asked Rodriguez.
Brown said that because there are jobs out there and he believes that a lot of families are struggling right now because one parent may have to stay home with kids could be why some customers are delinquent on their payments.
Rodriguez then asked if that might be a reason to extend the shutoff suspension, to which Brown replied that there are reasons to maintain the suspension and reasons to reinstate it.
Council President Dan Capron suggested that the city consider leniency for households who have had to be under quarantine as this situation would prevent people from being able to work.
Mayor Riley Hill said that there are programs available to help people struggling financially with utility payments, and that he was in favor of reinstating the utility shutoff policy.
The council ultimately gave their consent to Brown to instruct city staff to lift the suspension on utility shutoffs, no motion was required.
In a follow-up phone call to Brown on Wednesday morning, it was asked if the delinquent accounts are becoming a liability for the city. He responded by saying that “it’s not a great liability” and that these accounts are not affecting the city’s water and sewer fund. Brown did say that it becomes harder for residents who keep putting off a bill that’s been waived because it puts them further into debt.
Brown referenced Ontario Finance Director Kari Ott’s statement from Tuesday night’s meeting about approximately 100 shutoff letters being sent out every month, of those 100, only about 45 actually have their services shut off.