Lawrence to offer payment plans for residents behind on utility bills; late fees, collections and shut-offs to resume for those who don’t sign up

photo by: Chris Conde

Lawrence City Hall is pictured in September 2018.

After suspending late fees, collections and utility shut-offs during the pandemic, the City of Lawrence will soon start trying to collect on the more than $1.9 million that Lawrence residents owe in back utility bills.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the city stopped charging late fees, disconnecting service for nonpayment and sending delinquent accounts to collection agencies in March 2020. As part of the City Commission’s meeting Tuesday, City Manager Craig Owens said Lawrence was the only local utility that continues to suspend those activities and that it was something the city needed to start addressing.

“We do believe it’s appropriate for us and responsible for us to start figuring out some ways to work the balances down and work with utility rate payers that are behind, and help work with them to try and get these balances down,” Owens said.

The city is launching a new payment plan program, and starting Jan. 1, the city will resume late fees and collections for customers who have not signed up for a plan to begin paying down past-due balances, according to a city staff memo. The city will resume service disconnections for nonpayment in March, and those who don’t sign up for a payment plan could have their service shut off after that time.

The City of Lawrence provides water, sewer, and trash and recycling collection services citywide. The amount of back utility bills has been rising, and currently about 3,800 Lawrence households, or about 11% of customers, currently have utility balances that are more than three weeks past due, amounting to about $1.95 million in delinquent payments, according to the memo.

The payment arrangements will allow customers with past-due balances to pay down their balance over the course of 12 months or potentially longer depending on the amount they currently owe, according to the memo. For customers who sign up for a payment plan for their past-due balance and keep their bill current beginning Jan. 1, the city will not report their account to a collection agency or shut off the services.

Customers who owe less than $600 will be given 12 months to pay their delinquent balance, making their additional monthly payment $50 or less, depending on how much they owe. Customers who owe more than $600 will pay a maximum monthly payment according to the following schedule:

•Total delinquent balance of $601-$799, maximum monthly payment of $50

•Total delinquent balance of $800-$1,299, maximum monthly payment of $100

•Total delinquent balance of $1,300-$1,999, maximum monthly payment of $150

•Total delinquent balance of $2,000-$3,999: maximum monthly payment of $200

•Total delinquent balance of $4,000+: maximum monthly payment of $250

Customers will be able to sign up for a payment plan using an online form that will be available before Jan. 1. For former customers with closed accounts whose balances are more than 90 days delinquent, the city will begin to send those accounts to the collection agency beginning Jan. 1.

The memo states that city staff has been working with customers to get them signed up for assistance programs and would continue to do so.

As the Journal-World previously reported, the city is launching a donation-funded utility assistance program in January that will be administered by Catholic Charities. So far only 30 utility customers have signed up to donate to the program, and Owens said that the city may need to supplement that program with general fund dollars.

Other assistance programs are also available. The Kansas Housing Resources Corporation has been providing rent and utility assistance for renters amid the pandemic through the Kansas Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The organization has announced it would be launching a utility assistance program for homeowners early next year. Over the past five months, the city memo states the city has received $216,000 on behalf of Lawrence customers as part of the KERA program.


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