Delinquent water users in Modesto could get less time to pay up

03/03/2014 7:47 PM

03/03/2014 7:48 PM

Modesto is considering giving its delinquent water customers less time to pay what they owe before shutting off their water. And these customers would have to pay more to have their water service restored under a proposal the City Council will consider tonight.

City officials propose changing the number of months customers can skip out on paying their bill from two to one before facing disconnection. Customers still would receive a 15-day final disconnection notice telling them they can avoid shutoff by paying what they owe or entering into a payment plan with the city.

Modesto charges $10 each to disconnect and reconnect water service. That would increase to $42.50 each under the proposal. City officials say the increase would reflect the city’s actual cost for the service.

The city has about 78,000 water customers and about 10,000 of them had their water disconnected for nonpayment and then reconnected after bringing their account current in the fiscal year that ended June 30, Customer Services Division Manager Leslie Curtin said. About a quarter of those customers had their service disconnected and reconnected at least twice.

Curtin said about 80 percent of those roughly 10,000 customers were residential users, and their monthly bills were $100 to $175. Those bills can include charges for water, sewer, storm water and garbage pickup. Modesto is not changing what it charges for these services.

Curtin and acting Utility Planning and Projects Director William Wong said changing the number of months a customer can be delinquent from two to one is in line with the practices of surrounding cities. For instance, a city report states that Ceres, Manteca, Oakdale, Patterson and Turlock give their customers 30 days.

Curtin and Wong said they believe giving customers less time will result in lower delinquent balances and fewer water shutoffs. They added that higher connection and disconnection fees that cover the cost of the service mean other water customers no longer will subsidize those services for delinquent customers. They added that the higher fees could motivate delinquent customers to keep their accounts current.

“Our goal is to keep people’s water on ... and to protect the other water users,” Curtin said.

The proposal to change water user fees includes other items, such as charging $60 to customers who request that their service be turned on after hours. The city now does not charge for this. Modesto last updated the majority of its water user fees in 2004, according to a city report.

The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. in the basement chambers of Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St.

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