Water

The city of Temple said it will resume water shut offs today — more than three months after a disaster declaration ended water shut offs due to a lack of payment.

The Temple City Council unanimously voted Thursday to approve a resolution that amended the declaration. The city plans to resume water shut offs as early as Tuesday for any delinquent account that does not a payment plan scheduled.

City officials said this move is targeted at residents who have not made any effort to start paying their overdue bills.

“We are asking to replace (the current wording), so that if no effort is made to make payments that (we) can disconnect the service,” Finance Director Traci Barnard said.

The move comes as Bell County coronavirus cases are surging with 103 new infections reported Monday. The Bell County Public Health District — which advocates frequent hand washing as a way to deter the virus — reported that the county now has more than 1,500 cases.

More than 1,200 service extensions have been given to Temple customers during the coronavirus crisis as of Monday, but more than 725 accounts currently having delinquent balances.

The total balance for delinquent accounts now totals more than $130,000.

The city has been trying to get residents on payment plans so they did not get too far behind with their bills and even put hangers on the doors of delinquent accounts.  City officials said some residents have responded to these efforts.

City spokesman Cody Weems said they are offering residents the option to start on a payment plan if they are not able to pay their debt. Those on the plan will be required to pay up to 50 percent of their delinquent balance up front, with the remainder being paid over the next three to four payment periods, he said.

Residents who can’t pay their bills due problems related to the coronavirus can receive funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act through the city, Temple Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Central Texas.

“For those people that are intentionally not contacting the city about a water bill that they owe, yes it is the right time (to cut the water off),” Temple Mayor Tim Davis said. “There are people out there that will simply take advantage of the program. And their water will not be cut off as long as they come in and have an agreement with the city on how they are going to pay for it, and abide by that agreement.”

Davis said what he didn’t want residents to accrue a large debt that they could not pay off unless they are reminded.

Councilwoman Susan Long said she is reconsidering her position on the matter since the Council voted last week.

Long said she originally voted to start the cut offs again because that is what city staff recommended and she knew the city would work with residents to do get them caught up on payments.

She now plans to talk with city officials to make sure the decision to cut off water was the right one and to see if it needs to be reversed.

“For me, the only way I was willing to make that vote at this point was because I know we work with people if they come in and express a desire to be worked with,” Long said. “I think it is maybe it is something we should look at again.”