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Templeton will collect delinquent utility charges through the county

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To ensure the Templeton Community Services District receives past due payments for water and sewer services from 18 utility accounts, it's handing over collecting responsibilities to SLO County.

The delinquent water and sewer charges have decreased since the district's staff report was published on June 28; the amount was approximately $14,501, and as of July 6 it's $11,107.

During the district's July 6 meeting, General Manager Jeff Briltz said that under normal circumstances the district would have shut water services off after two months of nonpayment.

Briltz said this collection mechanism has been effective in encouraging payment of these utility bills, however, the district couldn't shut off services because of an executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom in light of the pandemic.

In April 2020, the Newsom administration issued an executive order declaring a moratorium on service disconnections that isn't expected to be lifted until Sept. 30.

Now the charges will be collected through the county tax roll and the delinquent payments will be invoiced as part of the property owner's property tax bill. Briltz said special districts across SLO County are going down this route to ensure they receive past due payments from property owners.

The 18 accounts were delinquent as of March 20, 2021, and would typically have been shut off as of May 2021. Natalie Klock, the district's finance officer, said property owners were notified by mail on June 14 and district staff continues to make contact with account holders to set up payment arrangements if they choose.

Board director Pamela Jardini questioned the district's procedure, referring to a section in the executive order that states districts can go to the California State Water Resources Control Board to learn of their guidelines for nonpayment and implement them.

"I understand that other community services districts are implementing this [county tax collection method], however, I think my dad and mom said to me 'If everybody jumps off a cliff, are you too?' I just want to prevent a class action lawsuit," Jardini said.

Briltz clarified that this is one method of collecting delinquent payments that guarantees the district gets what it's owed. In March and April of 2020, he said, the district was concerned about whether customers would fall behind with their payments and how that could jeopardize services.

"We were not significantly impacted by the amount of money we're talking about here: $11,000 does not put the district in financial distress. But the water code does require that the property owner be responsible for payment of those findings and so this was another mechanism, not the only way, to ensure payment," Briltz said.

If the district did not go this route, he said, there remains a chance that some delinquent accounts could "fall through the cracks and ultimately the district may not get paid."

The board unanimously approved putting the delinquent payments on the county tax roll. Δ

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