EL CENTRO — City of El Centro Finance Manager Richard Romero informed the El Centro City Council of the current standing of delinquent utility accounts, Tuesday, February 16, where the Council agreed to move forward with sending notices and eventually disconnecting delinquent accounts.
Accounts can begin being disconnected as soon as March, despite the Council’s unanimous desire not to disconnect accounts during the pandemic.
Mayor Pro-Tem Tomas Oliva said, “I am one that certainly does not like the idea of disconnecting service during the pandemic. However … the City has afforded our residents every opportunity to contact us in an effort to settle the current situation.”
According to Romero, there were approximately 465 accounts in total that were reported as delinquent for a period of three months or more. In June of last year, the City attempted to begin setting up payment plans for the delinquent accounts. In October of last year, the City attempted the payment plans again after not getting the response they expected from their original attempt in June. He said 92 individuals signed up for the payment plan.
Additionally, federal funds were made available to Imperial County and subsequently allocated to several cities, including the City of El Centro, to aid locals with utility payments. He said 50 individuals applied for the coronavirus relief program, but only 41 qualified.
Romero discussed the outreach efforts in English and Spanish for the community, but still have about 330 delinquent accounts. He said the City’s social media was utilized to inform customers, phone calls were made to customers, along with hand-delivered packages — including information about the coronavirus relief fund, an application, and information in both languages.
“We do not understand what’s going on with lack of action by delinquent customers and we urge all delinquent customers to contact our customer service division at (760) 337-4510 to set up a payment plan or make payment arrangements,” said Romero.
Mayor Cheryl Viegas-Walker said, “I think that we have given every opportunity of June, October, November, December, January — personal phone calls, mail, outreach packages delivered — and (they’re) just not taking advantage of the assistance, which is kind of a head scratcher for me as well.”
If the allocated funds are not used within the designated time frame, the funds must be returned to the federal government to be reallocated to other areas.
“The point here is that there are funds available,” said Oliva. The federal government has sent federal dollars to the County of Imperial that have then afforded it to the residents of the City of El Centro and so the assistance is there. If you do not contact the City to find out what that assistance is, that money will have to be given back, meaning it will be given to someone else, somewhere else outside of Imperial Valley.”
Residents were encouraged to reach out to the City to set up payment plans or to see if they qualify for assistance. Notices will begin being sent out to inform residents of the possibility of disconnected utilities.