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Make shutoffs last resort

Even though the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across America, some policies that were put in place a few months ago to ease the burden of financial hardships resulting from the outbreak are expiring.

The state of Ohio in March asked municipalities and utility companies to refrain from disconnecting vital services for non-payment. That has meant that communities such as Cadiz and Barnesville have not turned off residents’ water service if they haven’t been able to pay their bills.

Many people lost their jobs or were forced to work reduced hours when stay-at-home orders were issued and businesses were forced to at least temporarily close their doors. Unemployment benefits and a weekly, federal supplement of $600 for those who were out of work helped ease the pain, as did the one-time $1,200 federal stimulus checks that were issued.

Now that utility operators are again permitted to issue late fees and to disconnect utilities for non-payment, a few local communities are taking action. Villages including Flushing have said they will again attach late fees to bills that go unpaid, and they will soon begin stopping service to residents who make no effort to bring their accounts up to date.

In Cadiz, officials said last week that it is resuming its shutoff practices this month. As many as 80 residents recently were on the list to be considered for water service termination.

“We had 80. We’re probably down to 30-40 now. We’ve put a lot of people on the payment plan where you split your bill into thirds,” Village Administrator Ted Andrzejewski said Thursday during a council meeting.

He added that the village is trying to work with residents who are receiving shutoff notices. The community has an established program that allows people to break their large account balances down into smaller payments. Offering that type of option is the right approach.

Water is necessary to life. Clean fresh water is required for a safe and sanitary life, which is especially important during this dangerous time when handwashing and sanitizing of surfaces can help prrevent the spread of COVID-19.

Obviously, local community leaders want their residents to be safe and well. Finding ways to help them meet their obligations while still maintaining vital services to their homes is exactly what should be done.

And those residents with overdue bills should take a close look at their finances and ensure that they have their priorities straight Of course some people are struggling to make ends meet right now, but they need to ensure they are spending wisely.

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