GLOUSTER — Residents expressed shock and dismay earlier this week when an announcement from the Glouster Water and Electric office stated some shutoffs would occur on March 23.
The shutoffs are due to late payments for usage of electric and water during the end of January and beginning of February. Payment for the usage was due March 10.
"We have around 70 households that have yet to pay their water and electric bill, which adds up to about $20,000," Mayor Samantha Sikorski wrote in a letter she released Friday, March 20. "These are the same households that pay late every month. By shutoff day we average less than 20 households that have still not paid."
The cities of Athens and Nelsonville have suspended water shutoffs until the end of the COVID-19 outbreak, but smaller utility providers across the state are struggling to do the same. In Athens, payment is still required for the utilities used, but the payment dates are postponed until officials know when the rules surrounding the pandemic will be lifted, allowing residents to go back to work.
Unemployment claims have skyrocketed in the few weeks since the pandemic has been declared. On Sunday, March 8, the state Job and Family Services department counted 562 new applications for unemployment filed that day. By the following week, Sunday, March 15, the numbers had leaped: 11,995 applications received on that one day.
Glouster uses it’s own water and electric department, and is not part of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which approved emergency measures so utility service can continue to customers through the outbreak.
The Commission also announced Friday that it would be extending the winter reconnect order through May 1. This allows the Commission to maintain or reconnect electric and natural gas service during the heating season.
Additionally, PUCO-regulated utilities were ordered to review their policies and identify where it may be prudent to suspend for the duration of the pandemic any policies that would impose a service restoration hardship or create an “unnecessary risk of human contact.”
“The Commission also encourages those utilities not regulated by the PUCO to implement similar procedures,” the PUCO press release stated.
Mayor Sikorksi says Glouster is simply unable to do this.
"We (the Village of Glouster) are concerned that if we waive disconnect fees and these same people continue to not pay their bills, we will not be able to pay our water and electric bills," she wrote. "Instead of less than 20 households being without water and electricity, the entire Village will be without water and electricity."
The purpose of suspending shutoffs is to help stop or slow the spread of the coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, frequent and proper hand washing is one of the most important measures to prevent infection of the virus. Second to that is maintaining safe drinking-water and sanitation services, according to guidelines released March 3.
Glouster combines its electric and water payments into one bill for customers. According to the office clerk, about 1,000 customers use the Glouster Water and Electric Department. Glouster purchases its water from Burr Oak Regional Water and electricity from AEP and AMP-Ohio.
The potential to cancel shutoffs was discussed during the Tuesday, March 17 Glouster Village Council meeting. As previously reported, Councilman Jimmy Holbert said he left the meeting “not sure what was going to happen.”
“They said we would talk about it at the next meeting, April 6,” he said Wednesday morning.