The Leesburg Town Council will consider tonight a town staff recommendation to proceed with utility cut-offs for delinquent water and sewer service accounts.
According to a staff report, the town’s Utilities Department has abided by moratoriums put in place by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) that postponed collection efforts on past due water and sewer accounts, and prohibited service disconnection. The first moratorium was put into place in March 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began to be felt stateside, and ended Oct. 5. Northam then reinstated a moratorium on utility disconnections on Nov. 18, as part of the Virginia budget Appropriations Act Amendments. The expiration of the current moratorium is up in the air, with the governor stating it would end when he felt economic and public health conditions had improved, or 60 days after the current state of emergency ends.
The staff report points to a provision in the amendments for municipal utilities dealing with revenue shortfalls, provided that certain requirements are met and a public body, in this case the Town Council, affirms the utility meets the threshold in a public process. Leesburg can take advantage of the exemption because its current delinquent account balances exceed 1% of the Utilities Fund operating budget, or $621,000 total.
Because the expiration of the current moratorium is unknown, “the Town’s Utilities Fund could be significantly impacted if customers decide to stop paying their quarterly utility bills without penalty of late fee or disconnection,” the staff report read.
The report also points out the actions taken by town staff to reach out to utility customers who have fallen behind on their bills. Following the expiration of the first moratorium, approximately 1,700 letters or emails were sent out to residential and commercial customers with past due accounts. The letters encouraged customers to set up a penalty-free payment plan for six to 24 months to avoid utility service disconnection. The staff also has referred customers to Loudoun County’s utility assistance program although, to date, only 11 town utility customers have taken advantage of the funding.
The matter will be discussed at tonight’s Town Council work session, which begins at 7 p.m.