Ponoka resident Bill Kirwan says he felt disrespected by the way a utility disconnection notice was delivered and says it was a violation of his privacy.
Kirwan received a bright green notice on his front door on Sept. 8, stating he had until Sept. 11 to pay or else his water would be cut off.
At a time when many people are out of work, Kirwan says this notice was like salt on a wound, and with no end in sight of this pandemic, it’s a wound that won’t stop bleeding any time soon.
“Way to kick a guy when he’s down.”
Kirwan, a parts man, has been out of work since March, when the COVID-19 shutdowns began.
Him and his wife have managed to pay their mortgage, and have made periodic payments on his utilities. He believes by the amount owing, that he’s only a few months behind.
He says they pays their property tax and have kept up with their mortgage — it’s just the utility bill they’ve fallen behind on.
“We’re not delinquent people, we’re just struggling,” said Bill Kirwan, who has owned his home since 2011, and has been a Ponoka resident since 2005.
According to Kirwan, this was the first contact he received from the town regarding his utility account, and says it was “rude” the way it was delivered.
“I just think this is a poor way of handling it, in my mind,” he said.
Kirwan says it shouldn’t be legal to display his private information on his front door, where all the neighbours can see it.
“I don’t need the whole neighbourhood to know we’re in financial duress,” he said.
“It’s nobody’s business.”
He knew he was behind, and says although he may be at fault for not contacting the town sooner about his outstanding balance, he still feels a notice on his door is the wrong way to go about notifying him.
“I completely understand they have a job to do, but the way they’re doing it is wrong.”
Although the Kirwans were able to pay the outstanding amount by the deadline, it was still a bit of a hardship, he says. More than that though, he feels disrespected as a member of the community.
When he spoke with the town, he was told there are just too many of these notices to deal with, so they place them on peoples’ doors.
“I get that we’re just another case, but that private information needs to stay private.”
He also questions how cost effective this method is, rather than having staff give a phone call, or email, or even emailing the notice out with the monthly bill.
“What’s quicker, picking up the phone, or going around town, door-to-door?”
By his reckoning, it costs about $1 to mail an item, but if a town staff member is being paid $15 a hour to deliver notices in person, it’s cheaper to mail them out, unless the person can deliver more than 15 notices in an hour.
Kirwan admits he hadn’t heard about the town’s utility deferment option.
“The town understands that people sometimes go through difficult times,” said town communications manager Sandra Smith in a provided statement.
“That is why we are always willing to work with people who reach out to us. We make every effort to find a mutually beneficial arrangement for citizens who are behind on their utility bill payments.”
According to the town, only two people signed up for the Utility Payment Relief Program, despite efforts to inform the public about the program.
When the program was first introduced, the town reviewed its customer billing files and identified 19 customers who were currently not making payments on their bills, and mailed out information packages to them.
The program was also promoted on their social media, website, and advertised in their weekly ad in Ponoka News.
Penalties on all overdue utility bill payments were waived from March to June 30, with no disconnection notices sent out.
Residents and businesses that signed up the program now have until the end of this year to catch up on their outstanding balances.
Smith says, similar to other utility providers, the town’s normal process is to flag accounts for disconnection notices when they are 90 days in arrears.
The notice, which is purposely bright green to easily be seen by the resident, is then delivered to the resident’s home, giving them three to five business days to make payment.
“In almost every case, the resident pays their bill or contacts the town and makes arrangements to pay their overdue bill once they receive the disconnect notice,” said Smith.
If the resident does not make payment or contact the town, the water is shut off on the business day following the end of the notice period.
Once their water has been shut off, a second notice is hung on the door informing them of the disconnection and directing them to call the town to restore service.
The customer will continue to receive garbage pickup and will continue to be charged for water/sewer base charges as well as solid waste disposal.
Overdue utility amounts may also be transferred to property taxes.
“This is a less desirable option because if a person gets behind on their property taxes, the penalty charges are substantially higher. Additionally, if property tax payments fall behind, the resident runs the risk of entering into the tax recovery process.
“Again, the town makes every effort to find a mutually beneficial arrangement for citizens who are behind on their utility bill payments. They simply have to contact us to let us know they are having difficulty making the payment on time.”