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HCSA waives fees, won’t cut service with late payment / March 19, 2020

Halifax County residents struggling to pay their bills as the coronavirus slams the economy don’t have to worry about their water and sewer being cut off.

The Halifax County Service Authority has put a moratorium on service interruptions for non-payment of bills, and the HCSA also will not charge late fees for overdue payments for the time being, said Executive Director Mark Estes.

“We’re not going to suspend service, disconnect service or charge late fees during this period,” Estes said Wednesday. “I don’t know how long this period is going to be, but we initially thought it would be mid-April.

“We want people to pay their bills on time, but we do not want anyone during this time to be without clean water to wash their hands, or be without water to do whatever they need to do for hygiene,” he said.

The policy applies to water and sewer bills due this month and also in April, at a minimum.

The HCSA bills on a bi-monthly basis, and the billing is staggered monthly, with customers required to pay in alternating months. The due date for customers who received their bills at the beginning of this month is Friday, March 20.

The late fee forgiveness policy and disconnections ban doesn’t mean that customers aren’t required to pay their bills. While no late charges will be added to bills, customers remain responsible for paying their regular bi-monthly charges.

For those concerned about falling behind on their bills, Estes said the HCSA is ready to work with people on payment plans to help them get past the current crunch. “We always have worked with customers to set up payment plans, especially in months when they’re not billed.”

There are no extra fees and interest with customer payment plans. The exception, said Estes, is the fee for paying by credit card; that is something the vendor controls, not the service authority.

Estes said he has not yet received any calls from customers who say they can’t pay their water and sewer bills due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, but he acknowledged the hardships that people are under.

“It’s a difficult time for everyone. In my strategic planning for disruptions [of service] this was never a part of it.”

The customer charges imposed by the service authority are largely determined by the borrowing sources the HCSA has tapped to fund its capital expenses. The authority has borrowed primarily from USDA and the Virginia Resources Authority. Customer rates are largely dictated by the borrowers to ensure adequate revenue to pay off debts.

“We have to maintain a revenue stream” to support the HCSA’s borrowing, Estes said, but he said government lenders also understand the position that entities such as the HCSA are in. Estes said he doesn’t know yet if the authority’s revenues will take a hit in coming months, but the HCSA maintains cash reserves as a hedge against the unexpected — such as times like these.

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