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City Of Cleveland To Resume Utility Shutoffs Dec. 1

The city instated a moratorium on shutoffs for non-payment in mid-March. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
The Cleveland skyline

The City of Cleveland will resume water and electric shutoffs for delinquent accounts Dec. 1.

Shutoffs due to non-payment were suspended in mid-March as part of the ongoing Proclamation of Civil Emergency during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The decision to resume disconnections has been done with great concern and awareness of the financial difficulties and other vulnerabilities many of our customers are facing due to the pandemic,” the city said in its latest COVID-19 update from Mayor Frank Jackson’s office. “We continue to diligently notify customers with past due accounts, so they receive plenty of notice in addition to the regular multi-notice procedures.”

The announcement was met with sharp criticism from some.

Resuming shutoffs for everyone shows the Cleveland is not prioritizing residents facing financial difficulties during the pandemic, said former Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich. The city should pursue absentee landlords and those improperly taking advantage of the moratorium, he said.

“Cities exist to try to make sure during periods like this, people find a way to make it, to survive,” Kucinich said. “I’m very concerned that this call for beginning the shutoffs again in December, it demonstrates a lack of priorities.”

The city has agreed to pay for consultants at the West Side Market and Cleveland Public Power, Kucinich said, when officials instead need to focus on how to help residents who are struggling during the pandemic.

“You get consultants to tell you how to run a market, how to run a light system, how to attract sports. What are we paying people at city hall for?” Kucinich said. “We have to put our priorities straight. Our priorities have to be the people in this city having trouble making ends meet.”

City administrators should reconsider the shutoffs as cold weather approaches, Kucinich said.

“We have to take into account the conditions of people who are living in the city who don’t have financial resources right now, and for whom we would be exacerbating the challenges to their health and their wellbeing,” he said.

The water and electric departments currently have a surplus, Kucinich said, and the city shouldn’t be chasing down money from residents during a time of financial struggle. Cleveland’s 2020 budget shows the water department began the year with nearly $200 million, while Cleveland Public Power started the year out with more than $26 million.

“When a community is in need, you don’t sit on a surplus and let people be without their water or lights during a pandemic,” Kucinich said.

Resources are available for people in need of financial assistance to pay their bills, Cleveland officials said Wednesday, including payment plans and connections to outside agencies.

“It is always our goal to keep customers connected to utility service,” according to the city. “We encourage customers who need assistance to contact Cleveland Water at (216) 664-3130 or Cleveland Public Power at (216) 664-4600 to discuss their payment options as soon as possible.”