Delinquent accounts in Tulare face water shut offs once again

After two years, the city of Tulare has about 900 households with delinquent utility accounts resulting in $1.5 million, the city sends letters warning residents water shut offs are coming back

TULARE – After several assistance programs were implemented as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic two years ago, many are now coming to an end. The city of Tulare will begin shutting off water again in August, requiring residents to pay their delinquent accounts.

The city of Tulare has begun issuing notices to residential customers that water shut offs will resume on Aug. 3. All past due balances must be paid to avoid any future shut offs.

It is our goal to get all of the delinquent accounts up to date or on a payment plan by the end of October,” city of Tulare management analyst Andrew Bettencourt said. 

Letters were sent out to residents on July 18 alerting them of the change and the possibility that their water could be shut off, according to Bettencourt. Residents have until Aug. 3 to respond to the letter and either pay their balance or sign up for a payment plan. 

“If they don’t sign up for a payment option, or pay off their balance by Aug. 3, then we will begin the shut off process,” Bettencourt said.

The city of Tulare understands that many residents are experiencing financial challenges as a result of the pandemic. That is why they are offering flexible payment agreements to help residents avoid shut-offs.

According to staff reports from the city’s public utilities commission, the city has not conducted any water shut offs because of unpaid utility bills since the start of the pandemic. Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on April 2, 2020, that placed a hold on shut offs for water services due to unpaid balances. This moratorium remained in place until Dec. 31, 2021.

Deputy city manager Josh McDonnell said there are approximately 900 households with delinquent accounts totaling approximately $1.5 million.

“The amount also includes refuse charges from before June 2021, and whatever delinquent account balances that existed pre-COVID,” McDonnell said. 

The delinquent amount does, however, exclude a 15 month period of time during the pandemic when the city received funding from the state for unpaid water and wastewater bills. 

In 2020, the State Water Board created a new program, The California Water and Wastewater Arrearage Payment Program after receiving federal funding. It provided financial relief to community water and wastewater systems for unpaid bills as a result of the pandemic from March 4, 2020 to June 15, 2021. The city of Tulare received funding in November 2021 and April 2022 totaling $582,558.67 in assistance. 

The program provided financial assistance to customers who could not pay their bills as a result of the pandemic. After funding came to an end in March for water and June for wastewater, or sewer, delinquencies began to grow again.

There was not a state or federal funded program dealing with refuse charges relating to COVID-19 challenges. As a result, during the 15 month period water and sewer were taken care of, the city of Tulare amasses $51,109.60 in unpaid refuse charges. On top of that, there is approximately $50,000 for late fees in accounts receivable. 

Under the perfect scenario, all the delinquent accounts will have successfully gone through their payment plans by October 2024 and in many cases, sooner,” Bettencourt said. 

Before the pandemic, a new law was passed that would have taken place in early 2020 called Senate Bill 998. However, as a result of the pandemic it was not implemented until now. This bill prohibited any city from shutting off the water to an establishment unless the bill was 60 days delinquent. Bettencourt said they are now following SB 998 protocols. 

For questions or to go over payment options, please contact utility billing at 559-684-4260. The utility billing window is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at Tulare’s City Hall, 411 E. Kern. 

The following programs offer additional assistance: 

Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, administered by California Department of Community Services and Development https://www.csd.ca.gov/Pages/LIHWAP.aspx  

California Arrearage Payment Program, administered by California Department of Community Services and Development https://www.csd.ca.gov/Pages/CAPP.aspx 

California COVID-19 Rent Relief, administered by Consumer Services and Housing Agency https://housing.ca.gov/ 

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