Holiday season surprise in Aztec: Utility bill relief for 600+ customers who haven't paid
AZTEC — The Aztec City Commission is providing a surprise holiday present to more than 600 utility customers this year.
The commission voted unanimously to use CARES Act funding to pay utility bills for customers who have not been able to pay their bills during the pandemic.
This vote came during an emergency special meeting on Dec. 10 that can be viewed on YouTube.
Aztec's CARES Act funding
Aztec received CARES Act funding that is administered by the state for small business continuity grants. However, the money has to be spent by the end of the year and it is unlikely that the city will be able to spend the funds it has.
The state has given Aztec permission to use the funds for utility bills, and Aztec must submit the list to the state.
The commission voted to transfer $403,656.53 to pay the unpaid utility bills. According to the agenda packet, the city has $402,321.96 of unpaid utility bills since the pandemic began.
Aztec received more than $1 million of CARES Act funding for the business continuity grants and, as of Dec. 4, the city had awarded $92,308.24 to assist local businesses. After the transfer to assist utility customers, the city will still have $609,468.47 in funding for business continuity grants.
"I wish we had had some way to obligate all those funds to stay in the community," said Commissioner Rosalyn Fry.
Fry supported the use of funds to pay unpaid utility bills in part because it benefits the city's utility, which may never be able to recoup all of the unpaid utility bills without it. She also expressed support for the measure as a way to help customers.
City Manager Steve Mueller said Aztec is still processing business grant applications and has received 37.
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How to get the utility bill relief
Commissioner Austin Randall asked if customers have to fill out a form to demonstrate hardship to receive the funds, but city officials say that process would be too cumbersome. Because of that, everyone who is behind on their utility bills will benefit from the transfer of funds.
This only applies to people who are currently behind on their utility bills and Aztec will not be forgiving future utility bills. Aztec has had a moratorium on utility disconnects for nonpayment throughout the pandemic.
Without the CARES Act funding, the customers who haven't been able to pay would be responsible for paying the bills and arranging payment plans once the moratorium is lifted.
When the moratorium is lifted and disconnects resume, that could leave people without power or water or heat. The earliest that those disconnects could resume is March.
"I feel that a good part of our customers are in need," Utility Director Delain George said.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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