Funding of $75,000 from the City of Gulfport’s unrestricted General Fund Balance has been authorized to provide aid to residents who are at risk of an interruption in water service due to nonpayment.
The last time the city followed through with disconnections was March 11, 2020. Those who were scheduled for disconnection on March 18 and after were given a reprieve due to the financial constraints citizens were expected to endure during the COVID-19 shutdown. By the time disconnections are reinstated some residents could be up to six-months behind on their bill.
“On July 8, the utilities department will take a phased approach to reinstating service ‘cutoffs,’ for nonpayment of services per normal operating procedures,” explained Gulfport’s Financial Manager Cheryl Hannafin.
According to Hannafin, as of Tuesday, May 26, the City of Gulfport is $180,000 in arrears for 273 past due utilities accounts.
“We’re trying to offer this program to those with the most at-risk [situations] first,” said Hannafin.
Ward Four, which is responsible for almost half of those past-due accounts, will be the first ward allowed to apply for the grant.
Applications for the grant will be accepted starting two weeks before scheduled disconnection. Those who are alerted that they are in danger of having their water shut off on Wednesday, July 8 can apply for the grant as early as Wednesday, June 24 and as late as Tuesday, July 7.
If an application is submitted prior to scheduled disconnect, even if submitted the evening prior to cut off, the account will be excluded from cut off while application is under review.
For those who qualify for the grant, applicants will be authorized for two monthly utility bills (accrued after April 1), up to a maximum of $500 per household. The grant will be paid in the form of a credit on the applicant’s City of Gulfport utility bill.
“Alerts will be sent one month prior to disconnection,” explained Hannafin. The city has recently had success with their new electronic system of alerts. Alerts will be sent via email and text message along with a flyer delivered to the residence.
For those who have accrued a substantial debt, the city is open to considering payment plans. This will occur on a case-by-case basis.
“We encourage residents to pay what they can, when they can,” said Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly. “We understand, the larger the balance the harder it will be for them to pay it off.”
O’ Reilly explained: “The grant will ideally get you to where [the bill] is a manageable number. We can then start a payment plan for property owners, but we’re very cautious to set up payment plans for renters. All payment plans would have to be signed off by the city manager.”
Payment plans will only be considered at the end of July, after the first cycle of disconnections occur and further review of the grant process is done.
“I encourage people to apply,” said Mayor Sam Henderosn. “We knew we couldn’t pay everything everyone owes, but we have the funds to pay for some of it.”
*Must have suffered an economic hardship.
*Must be within two weeks of a scheduled interruption in water service due to non-payment.
*Must occupy the residence and have the utility account in the applicant’s name.
*Must be residential property.
*Must have an active utility account during February 2020 (not on standby).
Ineligible Applicants – Individuals NOT eligible to receive the Individual Utility Assistance Program Grant, include, but are not limited to:
*Any individual who has already received the Individual Utility Assistance Program grant within the past one year (rolling from the date of the grant).
*Any individual occupying a property that has an outstanding Utility Lien with the City of Gulfport.
*Any individual that has a history of more than five cutoffs within the past three years from the date of application.
*Any individual that has a history of tampering with the meter.
Applications can be submitted through the following methods:
City of Gulfport Attn: Individual Utility Assistance Program
2401 53rd Street S
Gulfport, FL 33707
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