Chatham communities take financial hit on water/sewer defaults

Posted 7/29/20

Nearly 700 public water and sewer users in Chatham County are behind on their payments, owing more than $132,000 to county public utility providers, based on information provided to the News + …

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Chatham communities take financial hit on water/sewer defaults

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Posted

Nearly 700 public water and sewer users in Chatham County are behind on their payments, owing more than $132,000 to county public utility providers, based on information provided to the News + Record.

On March 31, as the COVID-19 pandemic was shuttering businesses and putting hundreds of thousands of residents out of work across the state, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order prohibiting the shut-off of utilities such as water and power until July 31 in an effort to “help families stay in their homes and keep vital services like electricity, water, and communications going,” as the state implemented “stay at home orders.”

A recent Associated Press report noted that nearly 1 million residents across the state have fallen behind in their utility payments. It’s unclear whether Gov. Cooper will extend the moratorium on shut-offs prior to the July 31 sunset, but one thing is for certain: because Chatham County has not been immune to the financial hit, local utility systems are working to create payment plans for its customers in default.

Chatham County

The Chatham County system has about 10,200 active water accounts (the county does not provide sewer), according to Tracey Wilkie, collections supervisor for the county. Of those accounts, about 2.3% — 235 users — are in default. The total amount past due to the county’s water system is $38,000, or about $162 per customer. Wilkie said that the county will allow customers to satisfy their outstanding balances on a six-month repayment plan.

Pittsboro

The town of Pittsboro currently has about 3.6% of its 2,034 water and sewer accounts who are behind on payments, according to Heather Meacham, Pittsboro’s finance director. The past due amount for the 74 customers is approximately $9,762 or about $132 per user on average — not including July bills, which were sent out on July 20, but are not in technically due until August 1. Pittsboro residents who are behind on their water bills will be able to set up a payment plan with the town over six months. The board voted to extend its policy of not disconnecting users for an additional 30 days beyond the order sunset to allow Meacham to create a payment policy that will allow users to pay while not getting their service interrupted in the process.

Siler City

About 9% of Siler City’s 3,705 water and sewer users are in default, according to Tina Stroupe, Siler City’s finance director. The 337 users owe a total of $72,039 to the town, an average of just under $214 per user. The Siler City Board of Commissioners recently approved a modified plan offering a six-month repayment period for services that were incurred between the original executive order on March 31 and July 31, the anticipated sunset date.

Goldston-Gulf

Although it’s the smallest of the water systems, with only 499 customers in the Goldston-Gulf area, the Goldston-Gulf Sanitary District has the largest per customer past due amounts. 32 users — or 6.5% — are behind in payments, with a total due to the system of $12,487. This averages to about $390 per user.

Goldston-Gulf Sanitary District Chairman Ricky Beal said the system already has a normal policy of waiting 60 days for a cut-off of water and sewer services. The board, not knowing what Gov. Cooper is going to do on July 31, has been “holding back” on how to approach repayments. The discussion will be a topic of the Gulf-Goldston Sanitary District’s August meeting.

Casey Mann can be reached at CaseyMann@Chathamnr.com.

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