House approves Senate’s plan to limit municipalities’ ability to disconnect water for nonpayment of sewer fees

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House of Delegates, on Tuesday, unanimously approved a plan to limit the ability of “heavy-handed” municipalities to disconnect water service for the nonpayment of stormwater fees. 

As explained in the House Chamber by Del. Clay Riley, R-Harrison, SB 631 – sponsored by Sen. Jason Barrett, R-Berkeley – requires that, “A municipality or municipal stormwater utility form a stormwater appeals board, and allows for new applicants that may appeal their estimated residential usage to the appeal board.”

Riley further explained that in the event a utility provider intends to disconnect service for nonpayment of stormwater fees, they must meet five conditions:

  • Both water and stormwater service accounts must be in the same name.
  • Account must be no less than 90-days past due.
  • Utility provider must provide written notice no less than 10-days prior to the intended termination, and provide the option for the customer to enter into a deferred payment agreement.
  • Utility provider must attempt a minimum of two phone calls to the customer within the last 24-hours prior to service termination.
  • If customer has entered into a deferred payment agreement, they must be out of compliance in order for service to be terminated.

At the conclusion of Riley’s explanation, Del. Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, requested clarification, saying, “I was concerned in committee whether or not the bill would cause all lease agreements to have to be rewritten to make it clear as to who had to pay the sewer fees.”

Riley explained that as the bill requires both utility accounts to be under the same name, either the owner of the property or the tenant, no leases will need to be rewritten. 

Speaking in favor of the bill was Del. John Hardy, R-Berkeley. Hardy was the sponsor of HB 4864, a nearly identical bill to SB 631.

“The bill doesn’t quite accomplish what I was trying to do, but […] it is a fiscally-responsible way to approach this since we have some municipalities who are being very heavy-handed with the stormwater management fees and disconnections,” Hardy said. “We felt that this would be a fiscally-responsible way to make sure that we’re taking care of the municipalities, but still giving some relief to our constituents.”

As a committee amendment was applied to SB 631, it will now be referred back to the Senate. Assuming the Senate’s agreement with the amendment, the bill will then be forwarded to Gov. Jim Justice for his approval.

RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of SB 631 as additional information is made available. 

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