Some local utility providers like the City of Sequim and Clallam PUD opted to discontinue late fees and shut-offs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Some local utility providers like the City of Sequim and Clallam PUD opted to discontinue late fees and shut-offs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash

Agencies talk coronavirus impact on utilities, customers

Shut-offs postponed, relief programs continue

Whether it’s offering low income discounts or delaying shut-offs, some Sequim utility providers continue to offer varying relief during uncertain times.

Prior to Gov. Inslee’s March “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, Clallam County Public Utility District commissioners and staff opted to suspend utility disconnections and late fees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

City of Sequim officials opted to do the same with its water and sewer bills.

PUD

PUD communications manager Nicole Clark said the district’s finance department staff anticipates a financial hit during the pandemic, but since they are unsure when it will end “we haven’t quite shifted into recovery planning yet.”

Comparing this March’s bills to March 2019, Clark said the PUD has seen a 5.2 percent increase in delinquent accounts with a 29 percent increase in dollars owed.

Comparing April 2020 to April 2019, there’s been a 13.1 percent increase in delinquent accounts and a 39 percent increase in overdue bills, she noted.

Clark said the PUD’s growing total of 60-day delinquent accounts is anticipated to go into 90 days. At press time, 469 accounts would be disconnected under regular conditions, but Clark said that’s down from 500 at this time of year potentially because of stimulus funds and/or PUD customer service staffers checking in with customers to make payment arrangements.

She said customers who might be facing financial difficulty are encouraged to contact the PUD early on so they don’t get too far behind on payments.

Customers can also convert traditional accounts with a deposit on file to a SmartPay prepaid meter program so that the deposit can be applied to their account balance.

More information can be found at clallampud.net/coronavirus-concerns-and-your-pud.

As for impact on the PUD, Clark said, staff have halted some projects as most staff continue to work from home.

“Customer service is functioning well and our crews are on-call as usual,” she said.

Payment kiosks are situated around Clallam County, including at the Co-Op Farm and Garden parking lot, and a 24/7 pay-by-phone system by calling 844-239-0074.

City of Sequim

Since City of Sequim staff announced a Utility Relief Discount Program for water and sewer payments on March 20, Sue Hagener, Sequim administrative services director, said they’ve had 12 residents and three city businesses sign up.

The program allows single-family households and businesses with less than 50 employees to receive 50 percent off base fees during the pandemic.

After March’s bills went out, Hagener said, the amount of delinquencies were a normal amount. In a normal month, about 10 percent of the city’s 3,300 accounts are delinquent, but are quickly paid because shut-offs begin on the 10th day of the following month.

Hagener said with the billing cycle ending on the 25th each month, April saw 199 deliniquent accounts, which is less than normal.

For those delinquent bills in April and going into May, city staff plan to place stickers on statements to let residents know about the Relief Discount Program that they can still apply.

Find the application online at www.sequimwa.gov/911/COVID-19-Utility-Relief-Program, and/or call 360-683-4139.

Internet

Local internet providers such as CenturyLink and Wave Broadband have suspended shut-offs and suspended data overages for internet because of the pandemic.

Wave Broadband said overage fees are waved in March and April as of press time.

Free Wi-Fi remains available across the City of Sequim for people to park their cars and use, such as: the Sequim Civic Center, 152 W. Cedar St.; Sequim Library, 630 N. Sequim Ave., and Sequim Village Shopping Center (by JCPenney and many other retailers), 651 W. Washington St.

Nikola Broadband set up the Wi-Fi access point in the shopping center with the help of KSQM and Clallam PUD under the network “Kids_learning_Community_Access” with no password.

Community support

Volunteers with service groups like Sequim Community Aid said they haven’t received a large intake of calls for support with rent/mortgages, water/sewer, and/or gas bills yet. However, Kathy Suta, president of Sequim Community Aid, said she suspects that is going to change.

“We’ve had a lot of people call who haven’t asked for help before or gone on unemployment before,” she said.

A recent $3,500 donation from Sequim Sunrise Rotary along with some private donations and ongoing support from churches and individuals have helped Sequim Community Aid continue support for those in need, Suta said.

With an uncertain financial future ahead for so many, she’s unsure how many donors will be able to continue in the future.

“It’s all so up in the air,” Suta said.

She encourages people that might not need their federal stimulus checks to consider donating to local causes like Sequim Community Aid. Call Sequim Community Aid at 360-681-3731 for utility/rent assistance.

Monetary donations can be mailed to: Sequim Community Aid, P.O. Box 1591, Sequim, WA, 98382.

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