RINCON — The City of Rincon’s patience with delinquent water bills is on the verge of running dry.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, the Rincon City Council opted to waive late fees or any kind of penalties for non-payment, including the discontinuation of service.
“We’ve decided to go ahead and begin the process again of shutoffs but we’ve been very circumspect about it,” City Manager John Klimm told the council on Monday.
As he spoke, Klimm distributed a list of customers who are in “arrears significantly.” Some owe more than $1,000.
“We’ve contacted them,” Klimm said. “We recently, this past week, posted notices on their door — door hangers — asking them to contact us. Our feeling is if they can articulate a significant virus-related dilemma — if they’ve lost their job, they are ill or whatever the case may be — we will give some consideration.
“We also have a payment plan.”
Klimm, who admitted he doesn’t want to resort to a halt in service, said only three or four customers responded to the outreach effort.
Seeking guidance, he asked the council, “I have tried to be measured and go step by step but — at some point — what do you do if they just won’t pay?”
Councilman Patrick Kirkland said, “I think the right answer might be to send out one more notice with a note on there that explains to them that they have two choices. One of those choices is that you set up a payment plan by (a date to be determined) or you pay in full by (a date to be determined) or your service will be cut off.
“If they set up a payment plan, that’s great. But if they don’t or if they pay in full, we are putting it out there. We are giving them time to at least do something instead of nothing. If they do nothing, me, personally, I feel comfortable with saying, ‘OK, water is not free.’”
Klimm again stressed the city’s willingness to work with delinquent customers.
“Give us a call. Tell us what your situation is,” he said. “If you have an extenuating circumstance, I think everyone in this room would say, ‘We need to be helpful here and not punitive.’”
Klimm said the city staffers will try to reach the customers by telephone in addition to trying another door notice.
“We need to make every effort to contact them,” said Mayor Ken Lee, who suggested sending letters, too.
“Once you’ve done that, I think you’ve done all you can do,” he said. “Beyond that, there is only one option and that is to cut (water service) and that will get a response.”
Councilman James Dasher and City Clerk Dulcia King mentioned that some of the delinquencies started before payment requirements were eased because of COVID-19.
“I’d like to identify those,” Lee said. “Those, I think, we need to look at differently than the ones that began during COVID. If you’ve got someone who was already delinquent before we made the decision, in my mind, that’s a different story.
“They have taken advantage of the situation.”
To see a water payment plan, call (912) 826-5745.