Almost 300 Elizabeth City utility customers have signed a COVID-19 arrangement to pay their past-due bills, city officials said last week.
On July 24, Elizabeth City officials said 158 customers in the first of four utility billing cycles had signed the agreement that allows them to make catch-up payments in order to avoid disconnection.
That number has now grown to 286, City Manager Rich Olson said Friday in his weekly memo to city councilors and the mayor. The almost 300 agreements account for $223,569 in past due bills, he said.
Gov. Roy Cooper issued two executive orders during the pandemic that said utilities could not disconnect customers for nonpayment, or issue late fees.
Elizabeth City received a waiver from the governor’s order and began the normal utility billing process on July 1. Part of the waiver included a provision that the city had to set up a catchup repayment plan for customers, capped at $100 a month.
Utility bills that were distributed on July 3 include a statement that outstanding bills must either be paid by July 27 or the customer must enter into a “COVID arrangement.” Accounts that are not paid or put on a payment arrangement will be subject to having their service interrupted.
Just over 900 customers, however, in the first billing cycle have neither executed an agreement or made payments.
Customers can make an appointment to meet with city customer service staff at the Griffin Street satellite location to enter into a COVID agreement. Agreements can also be completed on the city’s website.
Olson also reported Friday that the city’s cash balance in the electric fund dipped below its $3 million minimum after Elizabeth City paid its June electric bill. The city’s current cash balance after paying the $1.9 million bill is $2.7 million, Olson said.
The city manager said he expects the city “will remain below” the $3 million cash balance minimum “into the foreseeable future.” He also suggested the city may need more than what its delinquent customers can pay to retire what’s owed.
“Elizabeth City’s electric utility, like many others serving economically challenged communities, will need relief funds to overcome the after-effects of the pandemic,” he said.
Later in his memo, Olson noted that the city is set to receive an additional $192,713 in funding from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. The funding is a mandated portion of the $772,902 Pasquotank County will be receiving in the funding.
Olson said the city is scheduled to submit a plan for how it plans to use the money. He noted that while U.S. Treasury rules prevent federal COVID-19 relief funds from being used for revenue replacement, funds “may be used for subsidy payments to electricity account holders ... (to pay) necessary expenditures incurred due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.” He said the UNC School of Government is providing cities guidance on how the relief funds can be used.