By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

Water & Light increases fund for customer aid

The McMinnville Water & Light board of commissioners on Friday agreed to double the amount of money the utility contributes to a fund for customers unable to pay their bills, and to refund fees normally charged for late payments.

All service disconnections are suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Commissioners will consider in April whether to extend the suspension beyond May 16.

In a special online meeting Friday, the board voted unanimously to refund late fees for residential customers, and to allow General Manager John Dietz to refund some businesses after a case-by-case review. The new policy does not apply to industrial customers.

It will be important to have funds in place for customers experiencing hardships in the coming months, the board said.

The Customers helping Customers program was started in 1998; the utility began contributing $20,000 a year to it in 2007. It will now contribute $40,000, split between its water and electric funds. The fund is administered by St. Vincent de Paul.

“A more recent dramatic decline in donations for the year 2018 has led to monthly funding limit decreases and lengthened assistance frequency in an attempt to level out the decline in the fund,” utility attorney Sam Justice said. “The donation decline may relate to recent tax (deduction) changes.”

The commission also has added a way for customers to make one-time donations, hoping to bolster the amount coming in to the program.

Commissioner Ed Gormley contended the utility should have done more to research how much of the funds are going toward electric bill payments, and how much toward water. Staff said they had not done so because it would take too much time right now.

McMinnville Mayor Scott Hill, who chairs the board, said he would undertake the task, and that staff could then return to the commission with any additional changes deemed necessary.

Hill said he hopes customers will also be moved by Water & Light’s action to increase their own donations.

 

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