Low-income residents and struggling small businesses in Battle Ground can soon have past-due utility bills forgiven in the city’s latest effort to relieve economic hardships associated with COVID-19.
The Battle Ground City Council voted unanimously Monday night in favor of the temporary program. The city will use federal CARES Act funding to offset payments.
The city defines overdue payments as those that remain outstanding 30 days after the due date.
As of Sept. 14, the total amounts owed for water, sewer and storm drainage services in the city was $200,720, according to a staff report written by city Finance and Information Services Director Meagan Lowery.
Payments were overdue on 267 accounts, including 22 accounts with more than $600 owed and 68 accounts with less than $100 overdue. That includes 25 small businesses, Lowery said.
To qualify for the program, residents must be considered “very low-income” as defined annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Those income levels include $30,800 for a one-person household and $43,950 for a four-person residence.
Qualifying small businesses must have 50 or fewer employees and provide proof that income has decreased over the past six months.
Before approving the program, councilors raised some potential concerns. The questions included whether property owners might “double-dip” after applying for the program by suing renters for unpaid bills or if residents or small business owners might overstate their financial hardships.
City Attorney Christine Hayes said the “double-dipping” would not be allowed in court under state law. Lowery said that even before COVID-19, some “frequent flyers” waited, likely due to economic hardships, until their utilities were about to be turned off before paying.
“This is a great program,” Councilor Shane Bowman said despite echoing the concerns. “I think there’s going to be fraudulent claims no matter what we do.”
Information on how to apply will be available soon, Lowery said. Applications are due Nov. 15.
Since the shutdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 began, the city council voted to ban water disconnections and late payment fees through Oct. 15. Fees for online and phone payment services have been waived through Oct. 31.