With at least 6 percent of Huntsville households in delinquent status on utility bills, council members voted down an ordinance that would have reinstated shutoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Huntsville City Council voted 8-1 Tuesday to continue a ban on disconnections, temporarily preventing more than 570 customers from losing water and sewer services over the next few months. The proposed ordinance would have restarted cutoffs in March.
Councilwoman Daiquiri Beebe said that it was too early to reinstate shutoffs, noting that the city is still under a disaster declaration.
“These people are suffering and that’s why they aren’t paying,” Beebe said.
City officials noted that they initiate approximately 200 shutoffs per month. Currently, the average delinquency of non-paying customers is approximately $285.
“I’m not trying to make light of this, but this is a business and we owe the people who are paying their bills a fair shake,” councilmember Russell Humphrey added. “We all know what needs to be done, but we have to have compassion.”
According to city attorney Leonard Schneider, the city is prohibited from forgiving the debt. However, due to the disaster declaration they have the ability to not suspend accounts.
Councilmember Joe Rodriquez (Ward 4) — the lone vote for reinstating shutoffs — noted that city utility bills allows customers to submit a donation to the C.O.M.E. Center. This non-profit organization helps those in need with financial and utility assistance.
Officials noted that write-offs of half of the roughly $160,000 of delinquent amounts would account for 3/10ths of 1 percent of the utility fund’s $30 million annual revenue.
The next scheduled meeting of the Huntsville City Council is scheduled for Dec. 15.