When asked about waiving a few water fees for individual property owners, the Millsboro Town Council decided to look at the bigger picture. Rather than risk setting a precedent of picking and choosing who gets a break, they will offer broader relief to water customers.
For one billing cycle, the Town will waive everyone’s turn on/off fees for water connections, to make things easier during COVID-19. The waivers will apply to the quarterly billing cycle of March to June, which was billed on July 1.
The waiver does not prevent anyone’s water from being turned off, and it does not waive late fees. It only prevents people from having to pay the additional turn on/off fees typically charged when an account is delinquent.
The Silva family kicked off the discussion on Sept. 8 with a description of their problem: their most recent water bill was more than $600 for the quarter (unusually high, due to a minor leak and a big family). They paid in full and on time, but life got in the way, and they forgot to pay the $40 irrigation bill, which is billed separately.
Because they failed to pay, the family came home from a beach day to find their water connection had been shut off completely by the Town.
The Silvas requested that the Town cancel the additional $80 turn on/off fees. Hearing about the honest mistake, Council Member Larry Gum said he wanted to waive the fee, but Town Manager Sheldon Hudson recommended creating a policy to do so. Two other customers had also requested various fee waivers, he said.
Part of the challenge is that the Town can only turn off a single water connection from the street, although individual meters might be closer to the house. So they can’t cut off half the service — it’s all or nothing.
“If the house is being shut off because they didn’t pay their main bill … to me this is very different” than being 100 percent shut off because 10 percent of the bill wasn’t paid, Hudson said.
On the other hand, sometimes those secondary sprinkler systems cost much more than the primary water line.
The council debated the finer points of financial relief, such as creating a procedure for residents to request a waiver. There are “some times when the council will want to express compassion and grant relief,” said Town Solicitor Mary Schreider-Fox.
“This is a unique situation, but this is also a unique time period,” said Mayor Michelle Truitt, so the council opted to solve the problem with a version of COVID-19 relief.
Anyone who has already paid the on/off fee may receive a bill credit. Anyone who has not paid will just see the fee waived.
The council passed the waiver unanimously, 4-0, with Bradley Cordrey, Ron O’Neal and James Kells absent.
The Millsboro Town Council’s next meeting will be Monday, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m.