By Reggie Ellis
Working remotely, having children homeschooled and asking the elderly not to leave their homes has forced many of even the most technologically challenged to learn to use apps that keep us connected to our family, friends and coworkers. It has also forced our public institutions to reconsider how they do business.
Ivanhoe Public Utility District (IPUD) told the Ivanhoe Sol last week that it now has the capability to take payments through its website. Beginning in May, customers will be able to pay bills online at www.IvanhoePUD.com. Office manager Carol Fina said customers can either pay the amount of the current bill, or set up an automatic payment for a certain amount. Any overpayments will be credited to their account.
The new payment option is part of the district’s plans to completely overhaul its website. The website is up and functioning but some features remain a work in progress.
Fina also wanted to remind residents that IPUD is still not set up to take payments by phone, something the district continues to work on. As always, residents can leave payments in the drop box located on the west side of the district office, 15859 Azalea Ave. in Ivanhoe. IPUD accepts checks or money orders but not cash payments. The district’s lobby remains open to service customers and has maintained its regular hours from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Last month, IPUD announced it would suspend disconnections for 60 days. Fina is now saying that the suspensions will be extended until the Governor lifts the statewide emergency order or until the district’s board of directors vote to reinstitute disconnections. Fina said the district will also not be charging any late fees until after the emergency order has been lifted. Customers still owe the amount billed but will not have to work out payment plans until after the pandemic has passed.
But some of the consumer protections implemented by water systems during the pandemic are now permanent, thanks to a new law that took effect on April 1. More than a year before anyone had ever heard of COVID, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 998 into law in August 2018. Authored by Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), the bill mandates that water systems serving more than 200 connections approve permanent changes to their water service disconnection policies for low-income residents struggling to pay their bills.
The new policy prohibits shutoffs for at least 60 days following a delinquency and requires water providers to give advance written notice and make direct contact with the residents before service can be discontinued. It also requires water providers, such as cities, public utility districts and community water systems provide for deferred payments, alternate payment schedules, and an appeals process.
Other protections under the policy include halting shutoffs for medically fragile residents or if a local health agency deems the shutoff as a serious threat to the residents’ health and safety. Lastly, if service is disrupted, the bill requires that people are told how to restore service, and it waives reconnection fees and reduces interest rates for low income households, those with household incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, or less than $52,000 for a family of four.
The policy adds reporting requirements for water providers to post the policy, as well as the number of annual discontinuations of residential service for inability to pay, on its website.
Senate Bill 998 was introduced as residential water prices statewide were skyrocketing and more residents were losing access to water because of unpaid bills. Statewide, Dodd said the cost of water grew by more than 66 percent between 2007 and 2015. In Los Angeles, the cost of water increased 71 percent between 2010 and 2017, and for San Franciscans it climbed to 127 percent. For many households in poverty, the cost of water is more than 5 percent of household income, which is more than three times the affordability threshold of 1.5 percent. The California Urban Water Agencies, which represents utilities serving the majority of Californians, found that more than one in five of their customers were impacted by water affordability.