KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)–Around 600 water customers in Kingsport are getting relief thanks to a decision by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The BMA voted unanimously on Tuesday to modify the city’s policies for water billing, in order to give customers more time to pay off bills.

Now the customers have a year, or until about December 2023, instead of the typical six months to pay off their bills, which range from about $40 or $50 to thousands of dollars, Assistant City Manager Ryan McReynolds told News Channel 11.

“The resolution that was passed tonight gives us and our customers a lot more flexibility to look at working through this more than a year’s period and a much shorter time that we normally would have been dealing with,” McReynolds said.

‘Extraordinary times’

With some overdue payments running all the way back to 2020, a staff report said the city was in “extraordinary times” when it comes to water payments.

McReynolds said the city began allowing customers to accrue balances as a part of its effort to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of flexibility occurred within our payment system, which was fabulous for the time, but the downside was, at some point, there needed to be a time to catch back up in the payments,” McReynolds said.

McReynolds says the delay in paying off overdue balances was in part to correct imbalanced charges from 2022 and 2020 when utility customers paid estimates on their monthly water bill, rather than based on their water usage.

In 2020, the city modified billing due to staffing shortages. Then, in 2022, they billed via estimate as they were replacing water meters across the city.

The city is already working with customers to help identify those able to receive federal assistance to help pay their water bills through the Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency (UETHDA); however, the new rules will allow them to communicate directly with UETHDA about billing, rather than placing the bill on the customer.

“We’ve connected with the program to assist them in filling out the paperwork, and submit it on their behalf,” McReynolds said.