Chandler to resume shutting off utilities by May - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler to resume shutting off utilities by May

February 11th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
Chandler to resume shutting off utilities by May

By Kevin Reagan
Staff Writer

The City of Chandler is planning to resume shutting off utilities for delinquent customers now that unpaid bills have swelled to nearly $1.5 million throughout the pandemic.

Chandler had stopped shutoffs of water and wastewater services for delinquencies nearly a year ago after the pandemic started rupturing the local economy and Arizona’s unemployment rate started to escalate.

The city wanted to ensure that residents had access to clean water as COVID-19 spread across the state.

But city officials say they won’t be able to continue the moratorium for much longer and that cut-offs will begin by May.

Chandler’s utilities debt has nearly tripled over the last six months, with the number of delinquent accounts up from 900 to 2,700.

Jennifer Honea, a city spokesperson, said Chandler’s utilities fund is supposed to be self-sufficient and needs to have a steady stream of revenue to maintain service across the city.

The city had been attempting to connect residents with nonprofits that might be able to provide financial assistance or set up customers on a payment plan.

“Unfortunately, some customers have not contacted us and we are unsure if they are aware of the assistance that may be available to them,” Honea said. “By resuming normal operations, including disconnects, we are providing customers an opportunity to contact us.”

Officials hope customers will start reaching out to them over the next couple months to resolve the delinquent balances before shut-offs go into effect.

“Financial assistance is and continues to be available to customers needing help,” Honea said. “We chose May to resume normal operations to allow time for customers to contact us and get the help they need.”

Chandler is one of several Valley cities that have decided to resume its shut-off policy after allowing residents to forgo paying their utility bills for months.

Gilbert and Mesa have begun enforcing penalties for delinquencies.

Before the pandemic, Chandler disconnected water service for customers with a past-due balance of $400 or who were more than two weeks past due.

When Chandler stopped shutoffs and late fees last March, unpaid bills totaled about $200,000. Less than a month later, the debt had grown to about $400,000 and continued rising for the rest of the summer.

By October, the city initiated an outreach campaign that involved mailing out “soft notices” to customers with a debt of at least $150 and informed them how they could pay off the balance.

The city said these notices additionally referred customers to local programs that might be able to offer subsidies for utility assistance.

AZCEND is one nonprofit that’s been attempting to offer as many utility subsidies as possible throughout the pandemic to Chandler and Gilbert residents.

Over the last six months, AZCEND has spent about $1.3 million to help hundreds of Chandler residents pay water or electric bills.

The nonprofit has also disbursed another $3.8 million to help pay rent or mortgages.

AZCEND CEO Trinity Donovan said demand for utility assistance has remained consistent during the pandemic and that she doesn’t expect demand to wane anytime soon.

The city says returning to its shut-off policy will hopefully get its utility fund back to a manageable position without disrupting service for customers who are struggling.

“It is important that the city make good decisions and do our due diligence to address this issue while looking at all aspects of the situation,” Honea said.