Facing water shutoffs, most B-N residents set up payment plans
A majority of Bloomington residents who got utility shutoff notices have set up installment plans to avoid losing water service as the Twin Cities try to recoup more than $2 million in overdue accounts.
According to data provided by the city, 236 delinquent water customers have had service disconnected since the city resumed shutoffs on Oct. 18 following a moratorium that had been in place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s about 50% higher than the number of monthly shutoffs the city had in 2019, according to data provided by the city.
City spokesperson Katherine Murphy indicated an unspecified number of those shutoffs since October are from dormant accounts.
“We’ve had a lot of people who just call and say ‘I got two or three months behind because I forgot,” and paid in full."
Murphy said 426 residents have received shutoff notices for unpaid bills, while 15 customers have requested an exemption due to a COVID hardship and five customers are waiting on financial assistance through Tazwood Community Services or other agencies.
Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe said the city wants to give those hurt financially by COVID-19 a chance to get caught up over time.
“We put in place a process that we thought was thoughtful,” Mwilambwe said. “It is fair to those that have been making payments under difficult circumstances, but ... also trying to be compassionate toward those that are still having some difficulty.”
The city did not provide how much money was still past due. As of Sept. 30, the city reported it was waiting on $1.5 million in late payments from about 1,700 customers.
Mwilambwe considered it an encouraging sign that only 15 customers have sought a COVID exemption.
“The local economy is pretty vibrant and I think people are starting to get back on their feet,” he said.
In Normal, water department staff in Normal disconnected service to 40 customers on Tuesday, the first day since the town resumed utility shutoffs following the end of the town's COVID-related moratorium.
Water department director John Burkhart said those 40 shutoffs are close to double what the town does in a typical week, adding those accounts are from one of four billing cycles in the town.
Normal has more than 1,000 utility customers who are behind about $500 on average.
Burkhart said the town's delinquent accounts totaled close to $570,000, noting that's less than what the town collects in a month. “It’s been a concern. It’s stuff that we’ve been tracking fairly heavily since May of last year, but it never got to a scare point,” he said.
Residents who seek utility assistance or who set up a payment plan can avoid losing water service. But not many have. Burkhart said 60 customers have sought help through the Low Income Water Assistance Program and less than 100 have asked for a payment plan.
Burkhart said financial problems caused by the pandemic is one reason customers have fallen behind. He said others apparently just fell out of their routine.
“We’ve had a lot of people who just call and say ‘I got two or three months behind because I forgot,” and paid in full,” he said.
About 230 residents in Normal paid their overdue bills in full after the town sent shutoff notices and 33 more paid up since their water service was disconnected on Tuesday.
Burkhart said he expects water shutoffs will likely continue at a higher-than usual pace for the next few months.
“I honestly think after he get in the first of (next) year, everyone (will be) back to normalcy,” Burkhart said.
Some of the residences who water was shutoff may no longer be occupied, Burkhart said.