By Rick Palsgrove
Groveport City Council has taken steps to ease the burden of paying water bills for the city’s water customers.
Council approved legislation to allow the city’s water customers to sign an agreement to pay their bill, without late fees, over a three month period once every four billing cycles if the customer is facing a hardship.
“A hardship would be considered something of an emergency in nature,” said City Administrator Marsha Hall. “It could be income issues, unforeseen large expenses…it’s situational.”
Councilwoman Jean Ann Hilbert asked Hall at council’s May 23 meeting if the city could switch from quarterly water billing to monthly billing.
“Even billing bi-monthly would help,” said Hilbert. “If someone gets a $300 quarterly water bill that’s a heck of a lot to pay. It’s steep.”
Hall said it is not feasible for Groveport to switch to monthly water billing.
“It would require the hiring of additional staff,” said Hall.
Finance Director Jeff Green, who said Groveport’s water bills are “very average” when compared to other nearby communities, added, “As we build up the fund reserve we could look at other programs to make it easier to pay, but right now we don’t have any cushion financially. There’s not enough to fund more personnel.”
According to Hall, the city already offers Groveport water customers the ability to make pre-payment installments of bills and to pay their water bills online.
Green said city water customers can break their quarterly payments into three payments.
“We never turn money away. We’ll take payments at any time,” said Green. “Customers can bring in three payments per quarter. They can look at their last few quarterly bills, average them out, and pay per month ahead of time.”
Since the city is looking at ways to assist customers in paying their water bills, council also approved an increase in the amount the city charges for water shut offs and tagging customers for water shut offs due to non-payment. The increased charge for a trip to turn off water service for non-payment rises from $30 to $50. The increased charge for a trip to place a door hanger notifying a customer of non-payment rises from $5 to $25.
Green said there are approximately 1,200 customers on the Groveport water system. He said that, out of that number, the city only averages about “five or six, sometimes 10 to 12” water shut offs per quarter for non-payment.
However, he said most recently the city performed 22 shut offs for non-payment.
“It’s usually the same customers (who get shut off),” said Green. “It’s a chronic thing. Often it’s a mind set where people just don’t anticipate the bill coming. But, if someone has a true hardship we will work with them.”
Hall said city officials also considered other water bill options, such as a senior citizen discount or the removal of the minimum billing amount.
“However, either of these would require that we actually increase everyone’s bills in order to account for the reduced revenue based on our current operating balance and debt payment for the water plant,” said Hall.
She said 2017 has the last water rate increase of 3 percent adopted by council.
“After we know the annual operating costs of the new water plant and the estimated revenue after the 2017 rate increase, we will re-visit (our options),” said Hall.