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Moratorium on Waynesville utility disconnections to end

A policy adopted by the Town of Waynesville that was designed to alleviate financial hardship during the early stages of the Coronavirus Pandemic is about to end, and town officials want to be sure no one’s caught by surprise. 

“The Town of Waynesville will return to standard utility billing and payment practices beginning November 2, 2020, which means customers in arrears and not participating in a payment plan will receive notices about their past due balances and the earliest possible date their service could be interrupted,” reads a release issued by Autumn Lyvers, the town’s new finance director.

Back in March, aldermen voted to suspend billing-related water and electric shutoffs for its residential customers. 

“If there is one thing that worries me more than the thought of catching the coronavirus it’s the damage this is doing to the pocketbooks of our citizens,” Alderman Jon Feichter told The Smoky Mountain News at the time. 

The water fund is an enterprise fund, meaning it’s separate from the town’s general fund. When the provision was enacted, the fund had a balance of more than $2.2 million. The town’s electric fund is the same — an enterprise fund separate from the general fund, with a balance of around $3 million. 

There was concern that without the threat of disconnection hanging over their heads some customers would simply refuse to pay and build up large balances that would eventually come due. Alderman Anthony Sutton expressed support for the measure at the time, bit also emphasized the importance of payment arrangements for residential customers.

“It needs to be very clear that they’re not going to get [utility service] for free,” said Sutton. “They do have to pay it eventually.”

Indeed, state statute prohibits waiving fees or bills, so customers who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay their bills during the grace period must now do so. 

“Customers are eligible for a payment plan to catch up on utility costs accrued during the effective dates of Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive orders — March 31st through July 29th, 2020,” reads Lyvers’ release. “If a payment plan has not already been requested, please contact the Finance Office at 828.456.3515 to enroll in a payment plan and avoid disconnection of service.”

The release also notes that assistance with paying overdue utility bills may be available from the Haywood County Health and Human Services Agency for those who qualify, or from local charities. 

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