With the outbreak of COVID-19 leading to financial hardships for so many, the City of Delaware is implementing one measure that may at least eliminate one burden for families for the time being. During its Monday meeting, Delaware City Council approved an ordinance establishing a utility assistance program for the months of April and May.
As part of the program, $100,000 in utility bill credits will be set aside to apply to customers who are now unemployed as a result of the virus. The funds will be allocated from the city’s four Enterprise Funds — Stormwater, Water, Wastewater and Refuse. As a result, revenue for the city will see a $100,000 decline for the 2020 fiscal year.
An application process is being developed this week for those who would like to apply for the credit, and links to the application will be available on the city’s website and social media pages when ready. An insert added to the next utility bill, which would include all necessary information for applying for the credit, was also discussed to ensure everyone is informed.
Who qualifies for the credit, and how much of a credit they qualify for, will depend entirely on residents who are most in need of the help. City Attorney Darren Shulman said that depending on how many applications are submitted, the city may look into freeing up even more funds to allocate toward the program.
“I like this solution a lot better than just doing a blanket holiday for every resident,” Councilwoman Lisa Keller said of the bill credits. “This way, we’re able to target the relief to the specific people who need it. I think the ultimate reality is if we did a holiday for every resident, we would be looking at needing to do it for more than one month. Or, perhaps, having to raise utility rates later on.”
Keller went on to say residents need to understand that with an enterprise fund, the city is only charging what it cost to provide the service. She said a holiday extended to everyone would need to be made up for at some point, meaning the costs of service would likely need to be raised in the future.
Mayor Carolyn Riggle said freezing everyone’s utility bills would cost the city upwards of $1.3 million, a hit Delaware Finance Director Justin Nahvi said some city funds simply couldn’t support.
Payment plans will also be offered to customers allowing for additional time to pay monthly utility bills, and the $3.95 fee associated with online credit card payments of bills will also be waived.
Nahvi said he was told by the billing service that removing the credit card fee for online payments would take two months to remove from the city’s website. Instead, Nahvi said the fees paid will be credited toward the resident’s future bill to offset the cost.
The moratorium on water shutoffs, as well as waivers on any penalties or reconnection fees for non-payment during this emergency, will also continue during the pandemic.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.