FERNDALE, Wash. — At Monday’s regular meeting of the Ferndale City Council, city staff provided the councilmembers with information about a change in utility billing policies regarding delinquent accounts that will go into effect with the upcoming August 31st invoice.
City staff suspended late fees, bounced check fees and water shutoffs for delinquent accounts owing more than $100 with the April invoice. This was done in response to the economic crisis resulting from federal, state and local government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
State law prevents the City from waiving or forgiving outstanding balances and, according to a staff report provided to councilmembers, “The City does not have the staffing or software capacity to manage individual city/customer payment plans.”
As a result, staff said, the outstanding balances on some utility customers’ accounts have increased during the crisis. This has become a concern since it is “further burdening residents who may be unable to pay their bills.”
Staff told Council at the meeting that, starting with the next bi-monthly utility billing, they will resume the shutoff policy and fees for bounced checks. The outstanding balance threshold for triggering water shutoffs will be raised to $300 with this change. This will then be reduced to $200 with the October billing and returned to $100 with the December invoice.
While the City is unable to provide managed payment plans, they say they hope that by raising the outstanding balance shutoff threshold residents will realize their ability to make payments over time that maintain a balance below the threshold.
The city will encourage residents to pay their bills, and if appropriate, make incremental payments up to the deadline for bill payment. The City will continue to connect families in need with potential utility assistance through the Community Resource Center.
Late fees (the greater of $25 or 1.5% of balance due) for customers who have an outstanding balance are not being reinstated but, staff warn, they can be expected to return soon.