The Utilities Department of the City of Oklahoma City will resume the practice of disconnecting water services to customers who have not paid for service.
Shut-offs will resume in February after the City halted service disconnections in March of last year due to the loss of income for many City residents due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the City, nearly 16,000 of the City’s 190,000 residential utility customers are in arrears for a total of approximately $9 million. The Utilities Department is eager to set up payment plans for customers who have struggled to pay their bills due to the deadly virus requiring the closing of many workplaces.
“This is an issue where there are no easy answers,” said Chris Browning, Utilities Director, in a prepared statement sent to Free Press by the City. “We want to work with our customers to enable them to have uninterrupted water service.”
Pursuant to that, the Utilities Department partnered with Community CARES partners to provide assistance with water bills using CARES Act funds. Customers may call 2-1-1 for guidance in seeking relief and assistance for bills.
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The Utilities Department has made it possible for other customers to subsidize the City’s billing deficit with a program called Help 2 Others, which cleverly abbreviates as H2O.
Through this program, customers may offer assistance by rounding up their water bill payment to the nearest dollar, or by making a one-time contribution. The surplus will be applied to help other customers with water bill assistance. Contributions are tax-deductible and are administered by the Salvation Army. 100% of donations will go to assistance, according to a press release from the City.
According to the City, customers who need bill pay assistance are encouraged to call Utilities Customer Service at (405) 297-2833 and speak with a representative about their options.
Oklahoma City Water customers are encouraged to reach out to the utility department for payment installation opportunities. Customers are currently being offered a year of installment payments to make their accounts current without disruption of services.
Free Press spoke via phone to Jennifer McClintock, spokesperson for the Utilities Department of Oklahoma City. We asked about the timing of renewal of the cut-off policy.
“It was just a matter of what had been budgeted in terms of a loss. We knew there would be revenue shortfalls, but we met those faster than we expected. We budgeted $9 million and we reached that in December.”
McClintock explained that there are statutory restrictions on what rate-payer collections can be used for. They can’t be used to subsidize revenue shortfalls from non-payment by other customers.
“We don’t want to shut water off. We don’t.” said McClintock.
For now, the City plans to issue cut-off notices on the billing cycle. In February, meters will be read on the usual cycle and notices will be served on the same cycle.
Since the customers of Oklahoma City Utilities will have meters read and be billed on that cycle, meaning that disconnection notices will be sent out after the next bill, and water may be disconnected as soon as early March.
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