Leesburg’s town staff now has the green light to proceed with disconnections of utility service on its delinquent accounts, following action from the Town Council this week.
However, it does not appear a massive disconnection campaign is in the works.
By a 4-3 vote, with council members Kari Nacy, Zach Cummings and Ara Bagdasarian opposed, the council voted to verify that delinquent utility accounts currently exceed 1% of the Utilities Department’s annual revenue. That declaration alone allows the town to claim an exemption from Gov. Ralph Northam’s November budget bill in which municipal utilities with delinquencies comprising 1% or more of the budget may exempt themselves from the moratorium on utility disconnections, which began Nov. 18. A previous moratorium was in place from mid-March through Oct. 5 of last year.
The adopted resolution also authorized the utilities staff to proceed with its normal collection procedures, “including disconnection of water service where necessary to achieve customer response,” while also continuing with the practice of offering extended payment plans for accounts in arrears, Utilities Director Amy Wyks said in an email. Since the first moratorium ended in October, the town staff has reached out to delinquent account holders via mailings and door hangers, asking them to contact the town government to set up payment arrangements. In some instances, water service was disconnected if a response had not been heard from a utility customer, but was restored, regardless of whether payment was made, ocne the account holder reached out to town staff.
It appears that approach will soon be used again.
“Staff will continue the enhanced communication and outreach we utilized when the town resumed collections in October,” Wyks said. “Courtesy letters or emails will be sent a few weeks prior to the next quarterly billing. The correspondence will include information regarding payment plans through the town and the county’s utilities relief program. In the event we have not heard from customers, door hangers encouraging customers to contact the town will be hung. Disconnection will then only be used as a tool for accounts where there continues to be no response.”
One tool the council chose not to employ in ending the moratorium was placing nonconsensual liens on properties with delinquent accounts. A nonconsensual lien is an interest in a property granted to a creditor to secure a debt. It’s a tool that has been rarely used by utilities staff, with Wyks citing only two instances in her almost nine years running the department.
As of Jan. 4, according to Wyks, delinquent utility revenues total $647,000, or 3% of the fund’s $22.5 million budget. Wyks and staff projected that, had council not granted the exemption, delinquencies could account for $4 million in lost revenue, or 18% of the Utilities Fund’s budget, by the end of the fiscal year, June 30.