DeKALB – There are nearly 500 delinquent water bill accounts in the City of DeKalb, about $170,000 worth of unpaid bills due to financial constraints plaguing DeKalb residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, said DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas.
That's more than double what a 'normal' year looks like, he said Tuesday. While the city suspended penalties and water shut-offs beginning in March, that practice will be ending on Nov. 1, and residents will soon receive notification of payments due.
"Usually at this point we might have a couple hundred and that's a lot of shut-offs," Nicklas said. "Physically it's difficult to even keep up during normal times because we have to send somebody out. So we are never eager to do that."
Not to fret, though, city leaders said Monday. The city will not be shutting off anyone's water – even if their bill is late – through at least the end of the year, maybe even longer, since mid-winter isn't "the best time" to shut off residents' water, Nicklas said.
"The key is that we want to work with folks, we do not want to shut water off," said DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith during Monday's city council meeting. "There's a cost to us, cost to the city, certainly a cost to them. But what we're looking for is some kind of response from those folks who seemingly find it difficult to respond one way or another."
Nicklas said the City will periodically send late notices to residents overdue on their bills, to make contact with them and encourage them to call the City to set up a payment plan if they're unable to pay at that time. If the City receives no reply after a period of time, another letter is sent notifying the resident their bill was sent to collections.
"We are certainly eager to see if people want to just work out a payment plan, and between now and the end of the year that's very possible, but these are some hardcore delinquent accounts that aren't responding at all," Nicklas said.
What you should do if you can't pay your water bill
At the council's request, in the next letter expected to go out Sept. 1, the City will include a referral informing residents of several resources in the county such as the Family Service Agency or St. Vincent DePaul to help aid them in water bill payments.
Here's what the notice will look like, according to a letter approved by council shared with the Daily Chronicle Tuesday:
"Due to the pandemic, the City of DeKalb temporarily suspended penalties and water shut-offs for any past due accounts in March. This practice will be ending on November 1, 2020. To avoid penalties and/or water shut off, any customer with a past due amount should contact our Utility Billing Department at 815-748-2085 to make payment arrangements. A variety of assistance and payment options are available to our customers. The Community Action Program at Family Service Agency (FSA) offers a number of Utility Assistance Programs for qualifying residents as well. Please contact FSA at 815-758-8616 to inquire about the various programs available."
The Family Service Agency also received funding from the Kishwaukee United Way and federal funds through the Community Development Block Grant administered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which can provide aid for residents struggling to make rent payments during the pandemic.
For more information on how to qualify for housing and utility assistance, contact FSA at 815-758-8616.