COVID-19 grace period ending for Macon Water Authority customers

The+Macon+Water+Authority+is+ending+its+COVID-19+grace+period+for+disconnects%2C+late+fees+and+administrative+charges.+

Liz Fabian

The Macon Water Authority is ending its COVID-19 grace period for disconnects, late fees and administrative charges.

As more businesses reopen and Georgia’s stay-at-home orders relax, some Macon Water Authority customers could be without water late next month.

Last week, authority members voted to resume non-pay disconnects on July 14, which will give customers about six weeks to make payment arrangements.

Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the authority suspended non-payment disconnections and withheld late fees and administrative charges beginning March 18.

“We want to make sure our customers have good clean sanitation and make sure we continue to meet our critical mission to the public,” MWA executive director Tony Rojas said at the time.

Nearly three months later, the authority has at least $461,225 in unpaid bills from more than 2600 accounts.

Those past-due account holders will be getting a letter advising them that their water could be shut off and that late fees and administrative charges also will resume at the end of July.

Rojas said some letters could begin arriving this week after the first cycle of June billing.

“The good thing about what we’re doing here, customers who are working with us, there are no late fees that are applied until late July,” Rojas told the authority.

Guy Boyle, the authority’s executive vice president of business operations, said the customer care staff and billing department have been poring over the numbers and tracking cash flow.

On April 30, there were 1,407 accounts past due. That number grew to 2,630 by May 27.

The past-due accounts totaled about $421,000 at the end of April, but just over $461,000 by the end of May.

“Although past-due accounts are growing, some customers are making every attempt to pay something on their bills,” Boyle said. “The balances that are growing tend to be smaller balances.”

Boyle made it clear there are ways to avoid having your water turned off even if you can’t afford to pay up the account immediately.

“Disconnects would only occur for certain customers who have not called in and tried to get their bills paid in full or be put on a payment plan,” Boyle said.

Last week, the Georgia Public Service Commission approved Georgia Power resuming shutoffs on July 15.  Atlanta Gas Light will begin disconnecting delinquent customers on July 1.

The Macon Water Authority has hand sanitizer available at key locations at their offices. (Liz Fabian)

The Macon Water Authority also plans to bring staff back to work in the office and at the plants.

To provide social distancing, some employees have been working from home and others have been rotating schedules.

Authority member Sheddrick Clark asked, “Is there a big difference as far as exposability for the employees, as far as today compared to a month ago?”

“I don’t know if there’s been a big difference,” Rojas replied. “What we’ve been able to do is keep two employees out of one vehicle. In some instances, our employees can’t social distance.”

Those workers will wear personal protective equipment, he said.

“We had a long conversation with our managers,” Rojas said. “Employees have to be diligent in following procedures.”

The authority also recently approved 18 new locations to pay your Macon Water Authority bill.

For a $1.50 service fee, customers can pay monthly water/sewer bills at Kroger and Walmart stores in Macon, Warner Robins and Forsyth. With a $2.50 service charge, bills can be paid at Macon Check Cashing at 3355 Pio Nono Ave. and Discount Check Cashier of Macon at 1141 Rocky Creek Road.

Customers taking advantage of the remote pay locations will only be able to pay on their account and will not have access to the authority’s customer care services to establish an account, transfer or discontinue services or take outage reports.

“Since many of our customers work outside of Macon-Bibb County, the ‘Quick Pay’ Process extends our customer service reach closer to their places of employment,” Boyle stated in a news release.

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at 478-301-2976 or [email protected]