WARRENTON — The city could shut off water this month to more than 150 households behind on payments.

Warrenton suspended late fees, penalties and service disconnections last March to assist people during the coronavirus pandemic. The suspension ended in January. Accounts more than two months overdue are scheduled for shut-off on Feb. 23.

Warrenton sign

Customers in Warrenton could have their water shut off because of overdue bills during pandemic.

City Manager Linda Engbretson said the city wants to work with people to create payment plans and avoid shut-offs. She said the number of people facing shut-offs is much higher than usual. Generally, there are under 20 per billing cycle.

The city has been trying to notify people through letters and notices on utility bills since November, but, so far, only a couple of dozen have responded.

The city anticipates more people will respond to final reminder letters and door hangers expected in the coming days.

Engbretson said the city distributed a portion of its federal virus relief funds to Clatsop Community Action to support a water assistance program for residents.

However, she said some people stopped paying altogether since March. She said it is difficult to discern who needs help and who just stopped paying.

“I’m hopeful that we will have people make contact with us and set up payment plans if they’re having difficulty,” Engbretson said during a City Commission meeting last week.

“We’re also referring some folks to Clatsop Community Action because we did send over another $25,000 of our COVID relief money to help people who’ve been impacted by that.”

Viviana Matthews, the executive director of Clatsop Community Action, said the water assistance program was set up to help people through the pandemic. She said funds from Warrenton are helping 35 households get caught up on payments. She said to qualify for help, people need to show they have been financially impacted due to the pandemic.

She said once they are caught up on payments, the agency helps connect people to other programs, like rental and income-based energy assistance.

Matthews said the agency is trying to secure funds to support residents with water bills in Astoria, Gearhart and Seaside.

Overall, Clatsop Community Action has seen a 600% increase in people using the agency’s services since the beginning of the pandemic, she said. Many of the people have never asked for assistance before.

“We’re just urging people to call back before their water gets shut off,” Matthews said. “We really want to help as many as we can with that assistance.”

Nicole Bales is a reporter for The Astorian, covering police, courts and county government. Contact her at 971-704-1724 or nbales@dailyastorian.com.