For more than 200 water utility customers in Temple, the past month has been an awakening for them to pay their bills.

At the start of July, the Temple City Council authorized city staff to resume shutting off water for residents who had not paid their bills after previously freezing the action due to the coronavirus pandemic. City officials said they have since shut off water to 273 accounts for non-payment.

City spokesman Cody Weems said the city has continued to work with residents during the pandemic on their accounts but needed to resume the collections some time.

“The city has worked with residents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to offer extensions or payment plans for delinquent utility accounts,” Weems said. “However, these were never intended to be long-term solutions. The city will continue to negotiate with customers who contact the city about their bill. Service disconnections occur only when no effort is made by the customer to resolve their accounts.”

For residents who have fallen behind in their payments during the pandemic, the city has allowed them to start payment plans, paying some amount of their outstanding bill first and the rest over time.

Of the accounts that have been shut off, Weems said 63 have established payment plans with the city to pay back what they owe. While many account holders have continued with the plans, Weems said 14 of them have been voided by the city due to non-payment of the amounts.

City officials said many of the accounts that had water cut off now are paid in full, differing from those who have started on payment plans.

The city estimates only 20 to 25 accounts currently remain disconnected, Weems said.

While residents without water would not be able to wash their hands as easily during this pandemic, City Council members, including Mayor Tim Davis, said they didn’t want residents falling too far behind.

“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),” 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.”

Dog Ridge cancer patient water cut off

Water being cut off is a major concern for many local residents such as Debra Clement, 64, who lives on a fixed income.

Living just west of Belton in Bell County land, Clement said she had her water turned off by Dog Ridge Water Supply Corp. at the end of July.

Clement — who has breast cancer and congestive heart failure — said she is now afraid to go outside since she is not able to wash her hands to keep safe. She said she missed a single water payment and was not able to get the money together in time to pay her bill.

The supply company is not willing to restore her water now, Clement said, because she is not listed on the home’s deed.

Clement said she doesn’t know how long it will take to get the deed transferred to her name, and still needs water while she waits.

“I am pretty concerned about (the virus) because you are supposed to be washing your hands, and you are supposed to be keeping clean and all that,” Clement said. “And you can’t do that without water. And I think it is pretty sorry to be cutting the water off …right now because of the coronavirus since people are struggling.”

Lafonda Wilsey, general manager of Dog Ridge Water Supply, said that while the company understands the need for water during this pandemic, the company also needs to make money to stay in business.

Wilsey said the company — which serves more than 1,500 customers in the Belton area — shuts off the water to any customer who doesn’t pay after almost a month and having received a notice. She said there were a number of violations that could get a client’s water shut off or their reconnection halted, with deed problems being one.

Dog Ridge cuts off the water to about 20 customers per month, Wilsey said.

“We did not do (cutoffs) for a couple months due to the coronavirus,” Wilsey said. “(The virus) is a concern, however on the other hand we have to have revenue to keep operating to provide everybody with water.”