Elgin hoping to partner with Salvation Army to help residents with past-due water bills
With residents' past-due water bills mounting, the city of Elgin is looking at ways to get assistance to people who need it.
The city council unanimously agreed Wednesday to explore a partnership with the Salvation Army to help those in need.
Water shut-offs for unpaid bills have been suspended by the city during the federal and state eviction moratoriums. The eviction ban was extended through March.
Currently, more than 1,500 accounts are more than 90 days past due, with those delinquencies totaling over $850,000.
"There is no intent by the city to disconnect water service for any household that is able to demonstrate an inability to pay," City Manager Rick Kozal said Wednesday. But with arrearages increasing, "we believe that there's an obligation to make a reasoned determination as to which households are truly at risk and which may be simply letting the water bill run in an effort to see when it's going to be shut down," he said.
Continued revenue losses will ultimately require the city to raise water rates, reduce its bonding for annual utility infrastructure improvements, or some combination of both, officials said.
While Elgin officials wait to see what will happen with federal stimulus funds, they're considering allocating city money for a relief program, using $400,000 of unallocated reserves in the Riverboat Fund. Mayor David Kaptain said the city wants to be ready with a plan to distribute help.
"No matter where the money comes from, I would like to see a third party do the process," Kaptain said, noting the Salvation Army has the mechanisms and staff in place to screen people for need and distribute funds.
Salvation Army Elgin Corps Capt. Rich Forney said they "look forward to better help more families in need."
"It's wise that the city is getting proactive knowing that the weather is going to be changing," Forney said. "Typically when the weather changes, the shut-off notices are coming for electrical and water."
Kozal said Salvation Army guidelines are not just for low- to moderate-income households.
"There's a recognition that somebody, perhaps in the service industry who works at a restaurant, may not be able to make payments," he said. "They may not be at a point where they're low- to moderate-income, but there isn't any reason why they should not be eligible."
As for the past-due accounts, the city is recommending implementing a graduated payment plan that focuses on accounts with the highest delinquent amounts.
It proposes sending shut-off notices to delinquent accounts in four categories: $1,000 or more, $800 or more, $600 or more and $300 or more. Each exceeds the existing policy in which notices are mailed when arrearages exceed $100.
The city will begin staggering the mailing of notices to delinquent accounts in March through June, starting with accounts with delinquencies of $1,000 or more. Water bills will include a list of community assistance programs.
Elgin and Dundee townships in Kane County and Hanover Township in Cook County each offer general and emergency programs, providing assistance to pay rent or utilities for residents facing a utility turnoff or eviction. Elgin and Hanover townships' relief programs normally require utility shut-off or disconnection notices as a condition to issuing aid, though those requirements have been loosened during the eviction moratorium.
Shut-off for nonpayment normally occurs five days after mailing if payment is not received. The city will waive the $50 reconnection fee and all finance changes, and it will offer one-year payment plans in conjunction with a first payment made to avoid shut-off.