More than 350 Louisville area customers have had their water shut off.
City officials announced plans on Monday to share an additional $2.5 million in relief to help Louisville Water Co. customers behind on their bills, but the relief is still weeks away.
Louisville Water Co. and the Metropolitan Sewer District received around $4 million in COVID relief funding and helped nearly 12,000 customers. But those funds ran dry back in spring, said Kelley Dearing Smith, vice president of communications and marketing.
Currently, 14,000 Louisville Water Co. customers are behind on their payments. About half of those customers are on a payment plan separate from their bill, and around 1,600 could have their water shut off in the coming weeks.
Unlike energy assistance, there is no federal program to help customers behind on water bills. The only help currently available is a one-time credit of up to $250 on past-due balances through the company’s Drops of Kindness program.
The Louisville Water Foundation put in $500,000 for that program and has around $250,000 left, Dearing Smith said.
Monday’s announcement from Mayor Greg Fischer will help fund a separate program, according to a press release. Details aren’t yet finalized. Dearing Smith said they’ve had internal conversations about caps on the amount customers can receive, and she believes it will be more than $250.
“If we’re going to go this extra effort with $2.5 million, we want to eliminate as much debt as possible,” Dearing Smith said. “Water should not be something that you have to worry about.”
Dearing Smith said the utility’s responsibility for drinking water is a balancing act between the costs to produce it and availability and affordability for customers.
Technically, Louisville Water Co. is a private company. However, it does have a single shareholder: Louisville Metro government. Dearing Smith says that makes it unlike any other drinking water utility in the country.
Every year, Louisville Water Co. pays a dividend to its sole shareholder. Last year, in the middle of the pandemic, that amounted to $36.9 million. Louisville Metro Councilman and chair of the budget committee Bill Hollander said the dividend becomes general fund revenue and is not reserved for any particular use.
And it’s not funding the new 2.5 million dollar fund for past-due customers. That money came from the first round of Louisville’s Federal American Rescue Plan dollars.
“We know financial hardships related to COVID-19 created a high demand for utility assistance, and we have worked with our partners to get people back on track,” Fischer said. “As Louisville continues to recover from the impact of COVID, many households continue to face hardships. We are grateful to utilize this first round of money from the federal American Rescue Plan to help stabilize our most vulnerable households.”
The city reserved an additional $2.5 million to help customers behind on their energy bills as well. Those funds will be administered through the city’s Office of Resilience and Community Services via the Neighborhood Place.