Fresno

Fresno eyes to recoup cash for $4mil in unpaid water bills

With Fresnans in arrears more than $4 million for utility bills racked up during the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers are set to take action Thursday to recoup that money while instituting a new water shutoff policy for delinquent residents. 

Thanks to Senate Bill 998, which became effective in February 2020, water shutoffs in California are prohibited for people who have not paid their bills for fewer than 60 days. 

The law also prohibits all water shutoffs for residents that can meet the following criteria: 

  • Resident must submit certification of a primary care provider that a water shutoff will be life threatening
  • Resident unable to pay bill within normal billing cycle
  • Resident is willing to enter into an alternative payment schedule or plan for deferred or reduced payment for all delinquent charges

The city has prepared its new water shutoff policy to reflect the 2020 law. 

By approving the policy, the city also will be eligible for state funding received from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 – President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 pandemic stimulus package – to cover unpaid bills. 

Fresno’s new state-compliant policy comes after nearly two years of unpaid water bills stacking up due to delinquency. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency due to the pandemic on March 4, 2020.

As part of the state of emergency, Newsom signed an executive order that prohibited water shutoffs indefinitely, which was eventually lifted in June of this year. 

Following Newsom’s executive order, the Fresno City Council suspended all water shutoffs and waived all late fees and interest on March 19, 2020. That moratorium is still in effect because the city has not lifted its own state of emergency. 

The total cost that residential customers have racked up since March 2020 has increased from $1.2 million to $4.2 million for delinquent bills between 61-365 days. 

Since Fresno is not alone as a municipality facing burgeoning water bill delinquency costs, the state – as part of the latest budget – set aside $985 million to the State Water Resources Control Board to administer the California Water and Wastewater Arrearage Payment Program to cover unpaid bills. 

Without the city’s new water shutoff policy, the council could not apply for the $4.2 million in funding from the state to cover delinquent water bills.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.