Tapped out water customers are now being cut off by Prichard Water Works and Sewer Board. The utility, which serves Chickasaw, resumed shutoffs for some delinquent customers starting June 1st.
"One individual called upset and said they underwrote the check to the utility board by one cent and was hit with an $80 reconnection fee," said Chickasaw City Councilman Barry Broadhead.
Broadhead says after calls to the water board, the fee in that case was waived. Others haven't been so lucky.
"I probably got 10 or so complaints from residents," said Councilman Adam Bourne.
Utility companies largely stopped shutting off services and charging reconnection fees due to the COVID-19 crisis. MAWSS and Alabama Power both say they have not resumed those practices.
"It's inappropriate to do cutoffs during this difficult time, particularly since many of our residents in Chickasaw and Prichard work in the food industry and so many of them have been hit financially by the crisis," said Bourne.
But PWW&SB argues it's not shutting off people impacted by COVID-19. Of the 348 customers disconnected this month, all had balances pre-pandemic going back to January.
In a statement, general manager Nia Bradley said, "Currently, we have over 2,000 past due accounts which may be related to the coronavirus because of when they went past due. We have not disconnected these customers nor are we attempting to disconnect these customers at this time."
Chickasaw leaders still say they're leery and argue now is not the time to shut off services.
"It's a plea for help from our most vulnerable population, those who can least afford these reconnection fees are the ones being hit by it," said Broadhead.
Read Bradley's full statement:
Prichard water made a commitment at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and we would not be disconnecting water for any customers who's bills were late as a result of the Coronavirus. As of today that continues to be our policy, though we will reevaluate this policy in July based on the governors safer at home order.
On June 1st we began processing disconnections for customers who's account have been past due since January of 2020. In total we disconnected 348 out of more than 11,000 customer as a result of nonpayment since January. These past due accounts are not related to coronavirus and in fact predated the earliest beginning of the pandemic. Currently we have over 2,000 past due accounts which may be related to the coronavirus because of when they went past due. We have not disconnected these customers nor are we attempting to disconnect these customers at this time.
We do expect that this policy will be revisited and at some point these accounts will need to be paid in full.