Cutoffs will begin Tuesday, July 20, 2021, for Sulphur Springs water customers who have yet to address overdue city utility bills accrued due to COVID-19, Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell reminded Thursday morning.
A total of 503 water accounts were behind by 30 days or more, including 29 accounts that were more than 12 months or more past due as Tuesday, April 6, 2021,
City staff during the April meeting asked Sulphur Springs City Council members to approve a resolution establishing a payment plan for utility customers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, the city determined to freeze water shutoffs for customers who had outstanding balances on their water bills due to COVID-19. In April, when city staff asked Sulphur Springs City Council to end the grace period, at least 29 accounts were more than 12 months past due in April a plan was approved
“When the City Council approved the payment plan arrangement in April, there were over 700 accounts with balances past due over 30 days. Today, there are only 426,” said City Finance Director Lesa Smith reported July 15, 2021.
During the April City Council meeting, Smith proposed having those city water customers who were behind one their utility payment due to COVID-19 pay their current month’s pill plus 1/12th of the past due amount each month. At that point, she reported at least 29 accounts were more than 12 months past due in April a plan was approved
Councilman Gary Spraggins in April 2021 asked that amount paid back be reduced to as low as 1/24th the total owed plus the current bill if the customer requests it, so that those already struggling would not be required to pay what would essentially be two water bills each month. While the payment plan can be for up to 24 months, the payment amount will be determined by the listed utility customer on the account provided the account is caught up at the conclusion the 2 years.
Customers behind on water bills due to COVID were required to visit the city officers to sign a contract agreeing to pay the agreed on back amount of the owed amount by the deadline. As an added incentive to make a payment agreement, no additional fees are being added to the amount in arrears through May 31, 2021, so long as the customer uphold the agreement.
The idea was to allow the customer to get caught up in one year and avoid disconnection of water service. The City Council approved the resolution and letters were sent to customers to make them aware that the city will begin requiring them to start paying the amount if they do not set up a payment plan or pay the owed amounts by deadline. Customer were asked to establish an agreement by June 7, 2021.
Those customers were given an extra month’s grace period. However, there are still water customers who as of July 15, 2021, had not set up a payment plan to begin paying. Maxwell reported they will be given through Monday, July 19, 2021, to stop by the city’s Business office, located at 125 South Davis St., to complete and sign a payment agreement.
“We have had around 75 customers sign up for payment plans over the past three months,” Smith said.
Smith explained that he city has two billing cycles for utility bills. Cycle 1 cutoffs will begin Tuesday, July 20, while Cycle 2 cutoffs will begin Tuesday, July 27. A total of 330 accounts on the first billing cycle were still delinquent, with either no plan in place or have defaulted on the agreement made, as of Thursday morning, July 15; that accounts for $84,285 in city utility fees as yet uncollected from those water customers who still owe back amounts unpaid due to COVID.
Any remaining accounts still delinquent due to COVID-19 that do not have a payment agreement on file with the city will have their water cut off starting Tuesday, July 20, 2021, Maxwell noted.