BPA Transmission Line

Power lines from Bonneville Dam head in all directions in North Bonneville, Wash, in Feb. 10, 2010.

Residents who need help paying utility bills will have more time to do so.

At a Monday, July 12, City Council work session, Finance Director Jean Teasdale presented the COVID-19 utility customer support program. Her presentation reviewed Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 18, 2020, proclamation that prohibited disconnection of utilities, including water, due to delinquency as the pandemic took hold nationwide.

The proclamation was set to end on July 31, 2021. However, on July 2, Inslee extended the date to Sept. 30. Inslee is asking cities to come up with a plan on how to help residents unable to pay their utility bills.

Per under the governor’s proclamation earlier this month, a new way for utilities and cities to work together to resolve the issue must be done. Also: There can be no disconnection of any residential customers from energy, telecommunications or water service due to nonpayment; no refusal to reconnect any residential customer who has been disconnected due to nonpayment; no charging fees for late payment; and no disconnecting service to any residential customer who has contacted the utility company to request assistance from the utility’s COVID-19 Customer Support Program.

The city of Walla Walla has granted customer protection of water services through Sept. 30 or the expiration of gubernatorial proclamations 20-23.16, whichever occurs later.

Under this, fees associated with late payments, disconnection and reconnection of services will not be charged through this timeframe. Interest on bills will not be charged on delinquent balances that occurred because of the pandemic.

The city is working with the Blue Mountain Action Council to contact people on the city’s delinquent list.

Payment options and request for assistance are being offered under the Blue Mountain Action Council and other agencies.

If customers qualify for help making utility payments through the Blue Mountain Action Council, they can complete an application for the low-income discount from the city under the BMAC’s assistance. If customers do not qualify for this funding, the city will craft a payment plan for up to 18 months. For landlords, the city’s finance department can inform them about state funding options and provide assistance in completing an application.

The plan applies to businesses and residences in Walla Walla. Further, this is an administrative policy that must be signed by City Manager Nabiel Shawa.

“We don’t want to be in the position, after Sept. 30, where we actually have to turn people’s water off, said Teasdale at the council’s evening meeting. “We would prefer that they work with us ahead of time, so that we can get their bill either paid by BMAC or that we set up a payment plan for them.”

Contact the Union-Bulletin’s reporting intern Abby Malzewski at abbymalzewski@wwub.com.

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