CARES Act funds available for delinquent utility payments

At a recent meeting, PSA board members and staff discuss delinquent accounts and places eligible customers may seek help to pay their utility bills.

By Brandon Martin

The impacts of the coronavirus have hit Henry County Public Service Authority (PSA) customers, but help in the form of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, may ease some of the burden for residents and the PSA itself.

Finance Director Darrell Jones said that even though the PSA is not currently cutting off utilities for delinquent accounts, he had a June cut-off list compiled anyway to gauge the revenue loss.

If the PSA were doing cutoffs during the month, 477 accounts were considered delinquent with a delinquent balance of $95,000, according to Jones who said that during a typical month, the PSA only sees around 150 accounts that would require the cutoff of services.

“It’s three times the number I would expect in a normal month,” Jones said.

Stuart Bowman, vice chairman of the PSA Board, asked if the increase in delinquent accounts was due to people not having the funds or if some are taking advantage of the fact that the PSA is currently not terminating services.

“Probably both,” Jones said. “Clearly, there’s many people on there that have not paid their bill since January, so when we do start cutting off, it’s going to be huge. Obviously, I think there are a few that have the ability to pay and know we aren’t cutting off so they are choosing not to pay. I’m also sure that there are people that are financially hurting who may not have the money.”

Jones said that it could take a couple of months to get through the utility cutoffs once they start back up.

The county has donated $200,000 in coronavirus relief funds to social services. Residents can apply for those funds to help pay off utility bills, if they qualify, Jones added.

“If it’s truly a financial burden then they can go to social services, fill out an application, prove financial burden and get assistance on their utility bill,” he said.

PSA General Manager and Henry County Administrator Tim Hall said that there would be an insert included with bills in upcoming months to help notify customers of the grant funds to help them pay their bills.

“Their first stop should be social services to get that money to pay their bill,” Hall said. He added that the current date that the payment exemptions extends to is August 31, but an official date of starting the process of cutoffs has not yet been determined.

Jones said some of the delinquent accounts are commercial entities, but the CARES Act grants would only apply to residential bills.

After comparing June revenues of this year with those of the year before, Jones said that water and sewer revenues are down 15 percent. “I was sort of surprised at that,” he said. He added that the previous month, sewer revenues were down nine percent and water was down five percent.

Overall revenues, conversely, are ahead of budget by one percent, according to Jones.

The coronavirus relief funds will also be used to offset other costs that the PSA has incurred due to online transaction fees, which have grown due to the pandemic.

Jones said the fees initially were only about $3,000 per month, but since then have increased to approximately $7,000 a month. The transaction fee is a flat rate incurred through a third party for credit card payments of $2.95 per transaction, for up to a $300 bill, according to Jones.

Hall said that from March through June, $23,635 in fees have been waived by the PSA “which is a substantial amount.” Compared to the same time period in 2019, the usage of the online portal has risen 47 percent, he said.

“One, people didn’t have a lot of choice because I shut the building down, but two, they are getting accustomed to doing that online,” Hall said.

“The county through their CARES Act funding, are actually going to reimburse the PSA for a period of time” to take care of the transaction fees, Jones said.

Hall said the funds will cover the transaction costs until December, which is the cutoff for when coronavirus relief funds can be used.

 

 

 

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