Exeter flooded with water delinquencies after pandemic

The city of Exeter’s delinquent utility accounts triple after the state prohibited utility shut offs during COVID-19

EXETER – Water shut offs are finally back after years of being prohibited due to COVID-19, and now the city hopes to get residents back on track with their unpaid utility bills.

On Nov. 1, Exeter resumed water shut-offs for residents whose utility balances are more than 60 days delinquent. The city put water shut offs on hold during the pandemic after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on April 2, 2020, that placed a hold on shut offs for water services due to unpaid balances. However, without requiring residents to pay their dues, delinquencies went up significantly, according to city manager Adam Ennis. 

“[Delinquencies] are up. Mostly from what we can tell is folks that typically run delinquent just went more delinquent,” Ennis said.

The city measures delinquent utility accounts all together, encompassing water, electric and gas. The city had roughly 100 delinquent utility accounts before the pandemic, totaling $17,000 in overdue bills, according to Ennis. However, as of right now, after years of not being able to shut off water to these accounts, that number has grown to 300 delinquencies that total $340,000. Being allowed to now turn off utilities like water will help the city get back on track with delinquencies, as residents usually pay their bill the same day their water is shut off, Ennis said.

Water shut offs cannot occur unless a person has been notified over a course of 60 days. That means that the clock on delinquencies began on Nov. 1, as those who have not paid their bill will now begin receiving notices. A person can expect around three notices before water is turned off.

For residents who are struggling to pay their utility bills, the city has partnered with CSET, who will help people sign up for the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program. The assistance program was established in December of 2020 and is federally funded. California was allocated $116 million to help low income families pay their water utility bills.  Exeter residents can also enroll in a payment plan to pay off their debts that have accumulated from unpaid dues. 

“We may even have some more [relief options] going. Those were the first two [programs] that were set up,” Ennis said. “From my understanding last Thursday, [CSET] had people in there the whole day. We’re kind of suspecting tomorrow will be similar to that.”

For other utilities, including rent, the California Rent Relief Program is also available to Exeter residents, and will pay the full amount of a residents utility and rent bills, if eligible.

“We are trying to get folks the help they need, so they can use [relief funds] to help them get caught up, so they’re not trailing behind so much,” Ennis said.

The shut offs were prohibited by the state because of the pandemic’s adverse health and economic impacts on residents. Though all utility delinquencies could go unpaid without consequence during this time, it was water utility shut-offs that were halted the longest.

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