Water customers with overdue bills have state protections through November

by GEOFF FOX

Residents in Hancock who are on the town’s water system won’t have to face water shut offs for non-payment through the middle of November under an extended Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) rule.

Because of businesses being shut down and people becoming unemployed over the last several months, there have been some economic hardships develop.

An executive order issued by Governor Larry Hogan that prohibited the termination of residential utility service was set to expire on September 1, but the Maryland Public Service Commission extended the prohibition through November 15.

Under the August 31 ruling, the PSC said utilities could not start sending termination notices until October 1 – 45 days in advance of termination; residential customers in arrears would have 45 days from receipt of a notice to work out a payment plan with their utility or to apply for energy assistance programs; utilities must offer a minimum payment plan of 12 months (or 24 months for those customers receiving energy assistance from the state’s Office of Home Energy Programs); and utilities cannot require a down payment of deposit as a condition of beginning a payment plan for any residential customer, including both current and new customers.

For Hancock residents, this includes unpaid municipal water bills.

While there are some outstanding balances that predate the pandemic, those customers haven’t been turned off while this utility ruling has been in effect.

Just because the town isn’t turning off the water, it doesn’t mean the bill is not accumulating, said Hancock Town Manager Joe Gilbert.

“For those who may think that we’re not charging for the water due to the pandemic, that’s incorrect,” Gilbert said.

It would be in their best interest to pay the bill if they have the means, he added.

When the orders are lifted, Gilbert said customers who are behind in payments could be faced with an accumulated water bill with late charges attached to it.

Right now, those residents have the opportunity to keep their bill low and pay in increments.

Folks can pay $5 on their bill or $150, whatever they can afford, Gilbert said.

When making a payment at Town Hall, the actual water bill is not needed. Just let the office person know your address.

Gilbert said the town doesn’t want people to get surprised and have “sticker shock” on an unpaid bill.

“We want them to think ahead,” he said. “Life goes on despite the pandemic.”

Water bills are still being sent out to Hancock customers.

Information about help for utility bills can be found through the Maryland PSC website or Maryland 211.

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