Members of New Market’s Town Council voted at a special-called meeting on Monday night to exempt the town from a state moratorium prohibiting utility disconnections during the COVID-19 public health emergency, meaning the town will resume shutting off water service to residents with delinquent accounts.
Tuesday’s unanimous vote made official the Town Council’s desire to resume utility cut-offs two months after it gave Town Manager Todd Walters the green light to begin the process of seeking an exemption to the state moratorium, which Gov. Ralph Northam reinstated in November. Localities are able to seek exemption from the moratorium and resume cut-offs for customers who have not paid their bills if arrearages exceed 1% of the utility’s annual operating revenues, and Walters noted during Tuesday’s meeting that the town’s delinquent water and sewer accounts exceeded that threshold.
Water disconnections will not take effect until May, as the town is required to give a 30-day notice to residents with unpaid bills, Walters said.
Earlier this year, New Market applied for nearly $5,000 through a statewide municipal utility relief program meant to aid eligible residents who could prove their late utility bills were the direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The town also recently implemented payment plan options to assist residents with late bills.
Even with those options in place, Walters said at the Town Council’s February meeting that New Market’s delinquent water and sewer accounts totaled over $15,000. Past discussions on the topic between council members and Walters indicated that residents who are behind on water bills are those who failed to make timely payments pre-pandemic, Mayor Larry Bompiani said at the February meeting.
Town Council held a public hearing on the moratorium exemption prior to Tuesday’s vote and no comments were received.
Also on Tuesday, council members voted unanimously to approve the conveyance of a utility right-of-way to Dominion Energy. The right-of-way is located on town-owned property at Rebel Park and will allow the adjacent property owner to run underground power lines to their property rather than the existing overhead lines, Walters said.
Walters told council members during a pre-vote public hearing on the matter – for which there were also no citizen comments – that the transfer of the utility right-of-way would in no way affect the town, stating that he doesn’t think the easement “encumbers this land for anything that we would ever do.”
Bompiani closed Monday’s special-called meeting by welcoming new Town Planner/Zoning Administrator Meghan Rupkey, who joined New Market’s staff on March 22. Walters, who was doubling as the town planner before Rupkey’s hire, stated during a town Planning Commission meeting last month that Rupkey, a Virginia Tech graduate, previously worked for Chesterfield County as the locality’s planning technician.