Waynesboro carries $400,000 in unpaid utilities, but will not refuse services to unpaid accounts
By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
WAYNESBORO — The City of Waynesboro respected House Bill 5005, passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam on Nov. 18, and did not enforce payment of utility bills during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now the city has $400,000 in unpaid water and sewer bills by 2,016 residential and commercial accounts.
“It is the city’s goal to utilize relief programs, rather than cut-off processes, to bring accounts into satisfactory status,” said Waynesboro City Manager Mike Hamp. “Delinquent accounts not impacted by the pandemic are subject to normal collections.”
According to Hamp, the unpaid balance includes utility bills not paid before the pandemic began, and goes back four years.
“The city, voluntarily, observed the moratorium established by the Virginia SCC for regulated utilities from March until June; then established by ordinance(s) a specific moratorium on cut-offs for water and sewer, mirroring the SCC moratorium,” Hamp said.
The city resumed cut-offs for about 60 days as the SCC’s moratorium approached expiration. Then, it was “apparent that the state executive and legislative branches were reviewing and considering action to re-establish a moratorium on utility service cut-offs.”
Hamp said that customers with unpaid utility bills are provided information about relief and assistance programs.
“Depending on circumstance, customers may be provided either financial assistance and/or payment plan,” Hamp said. “Customers not impacted by the pandemic are subject to normal collection processes for delinquent accounts.”
Included in each customer late notice, according to Hamp, is an attestation form, which requires the customer answer questions indicating whether he/she was impacted by the pandemic either by job loss, reduction in hours of work, loss of childcare options, or other factors created by the pandemic.
According to a city agenda briefing at Waynesboro City Council’s Jan. 25 meeting, the city appropriated $175,000 from the total amount of CARES Act funding it received to provide utility and rent/mortgage relief. From March to December of last year, $115,000 provided relief for rent assistance, and electric, water, sewer, gas and electric bills which were outstanding in the city.
“Utility services are among the chief concerns for families impacted by the pandemic and public health emergency,” Hamp said.
The city has not resumed cutting off utilities to unpaid accounts.
“We want to help families impacted by the pandemic through the available resources and programs. Any citizen or family impacted by the Coronavirus is encouraged to complete an application for relief,” Hamp said.