Fees return for late water bill payments

GOLIAD – City residents who pay their bills late will now be charged a fee and those who don’t pay, could lose water.

“For the past two months, we have not charged late fees or reconnect fees,” said Sherry Kuenstler, finance officer with the city. “We are losing $10,000 to $15,000 per month by not doing shutoffs and late fees.” 

Back in March, council members agreed to offer leniency to those residents suffering during this COVID-19 pandemic. Following an example provided by the city of Kenedy, the Goliad council was offering additional time for residents to pay their bills avoiding disconnects and late fees.

“I know this is a huge hit on your system,” Kuenstler said during a council meeting Wednesday, May 13.

Barbara Boulware-Wells, city attorney, said “I know you are having a bit of shell-shock right now.”

She reminds that the city was asked by the Public Utility Commission to not shutoff the water of residents unable to pay their bills because of COVID-19 events, such as layoffs or reduction in pay.

“You are not supposed to be able to turn of their water until at least the 15th of this month,” said Boulware-Wells. She adds that this was a request and not a mandate from the commission. 

“We are regulated in some respects by PUC and in some respects we are not,” Boulware-Well said.

As city leaders talked, their was discussion that the Public Utilities Commission could extend this beyond May 15.

“The last thing I saw was May 15 for not allowing you to turn off water,” Boulware-Wells said. “I know this is a huge hit on your system but there is nothing that says they are not responsible for repaying you.”

There is a problem with that idea.

The city has made no agreements with city residents to repay any of the late fees withheld these past two months.

“If we have no agreement then we cannot collect. Then that money is gone,” said Mayor Trudia Preston.

This past month, 78 people paid their water bills late; however, all but two have now paid their bills.

The city, on the 12th of the month, will charge a 10 percent fee to bills not paid. On the 21st, an additional $25 service fee is charged if the bill remains unpaid. On the 26th of the month the service is disconnected and a $35 fee charged to reconnect the water service.

The city is making note of all fees not paid in hopes that the state or federal government will offer a reimbursement as these are COVID-19 related expenses.

Jason Collins is the editor at the Goliad Advance-Guard and can be reached at 361-343-5221, or at editor@mySouTex.com.

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