Ames City Council to address staff report on delinquent utility accounts relating to COVID-19


Jill Even

Mayor John Haila discussed draft approval of a citywide face covering ordinance, going against advice from Gov. Kim Reynolds, the Iowa attorney general and the Ames city attorney Aug. 18.

Katherine Kealey

The Ames City Council will meet virtually to discuss the staff report on delinquent utility accounts due to COVID-19.

Delinquent or unpaid utility accounts have reached about $750,000. The city’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) federal funding is a funding source the Council has dedicated toward the delinquent utility accounts due to COVID-19.

When an account is identified as delinquent, the city will reach out to the customer multiple times to inform them of their account status. If the customer does not respond to the first notice, the city will attempt to post a shut-off notice at the service address and attempt to contact the customer by phone.

If the customer does not contact the city to inform them about their ability or intention to pay their usage, the city will disconnect services, according to a preview released by David Martin, Rep. 1st Ward.

“The city will help make customers aware of other financial resources, such as the CDBG program, the Bridge Home (formerly the Emergency Residence Project), Good Neighbor, [Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program], and others,” Martin wrote. “In addition, the city will try to arrange a payment plan over 12 months (six months in some repeating situations). If the city does ultimately have to cut off service, it almost always shuts off electrical service only, even when the utility bill also covers water and sewer fees.”

The federal government will not allow cities to direct CDBG funds toward their own utilities, regardless of the qualifying customer’s fees at issue. The city is looking into ways to remove this obstacle.

At-large Council member Bronwyn Beatty-Hansen has previously stressed that it’s not their goal to turn off customers’ utilities.

“The vote was not like, ‘Yes, shut off utilities after the first and second notices had gone out.’ The vote was, ‘go ahead and send these notices so we can try to connect people to these funding resources,'” Beatty-Hansen said. “[…] I think we’re all very cognizant that we don’t want to put people in a dangerous situation in a pandemic year by shutting off any utilities. Our vote was to revisit that after we send out some of the notices.”

The meeting will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 8 over Zoom and can be viewed from the Ames Channel 12 YouTube channel.