Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma
photo credit: (Credit: US Army Corps of Engineers)
Those who have fallen behind on water bills in Petaluma may soon face new protocols as the city council considers policy changes tonight. 
Petaluma assistant city attorney Dylan Brady said the bulk of the changes are to comply with a bill recently approved in Sacramento, requiring a more formal process.
"It will be more available to customers so they know what the city's policy is, it will be available on the city's website--in numerous different languages, available on request, there will be the formal ability to appeal, and then just the notices will be a little more in depth about how to appeal, the policy if it's discontinued, how to get your water service back on, that's how I'd describe the differences."
Generally, the proposal would begin a shut-off process once an account is 90-days overdue. Brady said as of last week, there were 800 such accounts, compared to an average 600 before the COVID pandemic. Brady said delinquent accounts presently owe a total of $830,000 in unpaid water bills.
Officials in Sacramento, Brady said, may allow cities to tap into federal COVID relief funds to pay off those bills.
One clause in the proposal before the council allows for shutting off water service to any residential customer "...in violation of city ordinances, rules or regulations." Brady says though the wording is broad, it's meant for specific circumstances.
"Typically, that involved tampering of meters,"
Because Petaluma has declared a stage-4 water emergency, however, there are other scenarios. "If there's excessive water being used at a site, we may be able to turn off the meters for that, but of course we would allow the customer whose water service the ability to appeal any determination by the city."
Currently, utilities are forbidden from shutting off service, due to the pandemic. If approved, moves to suspend service to delinquent accounts could resume once Sacramento declares the COVID-19 emergency over.
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