The Marana Town Council unanimously voted to rescind an order which bars the town’s water utility to shut-off service for nonpayment of delinquent bills and resume service disconnections starting Feb. 1.
Marana Water is providing residents with two options to help them catch up on their bill—pay 50% of the debt up front and have a year to take care of the balance owed or pay 25% upfront and have six months to settle their remaining balance. Businesses are not eligible for the program.
“If you haven’t paid your water bill for six months, you’re going to have to start paying,” Mayor Ed Honea said. “We don’t want to shut anybody off, but you can’t continue the program forever.”
Marana residents owe $75,000 in delinquent water accounts to the utility since last spring, when the Town Council passed and later extended an ordinance to prevent water service from being disconnected because of nonpayment. The number of delinquent accounts in the town have doubled since the pandemic’s start last March, according to town officials.
Honea said the $75,000 debt is actually lower at this point because many residents paid their water bill as the council began discussions on rescinding the order.
“We run about 4% delinquent anyway and now we’re running about 8% delinquent. But since we’ve started talking about it, nearly 3% of people have caught their bills up,” Honea said. “We’re nearly back to our normal debt within this first week.”
Honea said while the town expects to collect the bulk of the residential water bill debt, he anticipates some residents will be unable to get their account caught up in the allotted time frame. To help mitigate future issues and potential service shut-offs, Marana Water will work with those residents on a case-by-case basis, the mayor said.
“If you have somebody who hasn’t paid their mortgage on their home in six month, when do you get to a point where people have built up so much debt that they can’t pay it?” Honea said. “A lot of times the people we’re talking about aren’t low income. They’re upper middle class where one or both people have been out of work for quite a bit. We’re going to work with these people and make sure they get back on track.”
Honea stresses Marana Water is not attempting to make a profit during the pandemic, but the utility does need to make enough to continue operations like maintaining treatment facilities and service vehicles while continuing to pay employees.
“Whether COVID is worse now than it’s ever been, we still have to pay our people and we still have to operate. How long can you go without collecting revenues?,” Honea said. “Basically we want to generate enough money to pay our personnel and maintain our vehicles, but we don’t make money on it. In fact, the town has been putting money into it.”