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Tallahassee woman pushes back against utility disconnections after the expiration of the City’s moratorium

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 6:26 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A Tallahassee woman is pushing back against the expiration of the City of Tallahassee’s utility moratorium.

She’s arguing that the outreach needs to be better and the moratorium should be re-instated until the city changes its processes.

The City Commission unanimously voted to end the moratorium, which ran out at the end of April. The City faced millions in unpaid utility bills.

The City was the first in the state to put a utility moratorium in place and the last in the state to resume disconnections, but Shelby Green argues that people are still struggling and they need help.

“During COVID, the neighborhoods that struggled the most were minority neighborhoods, and particularly, black neighborhoods,” said Green.

Green has canvassed neighborhoods for the past two months, speaking with residents who have more than $200 of unpaid utility bills.

“So there are people who are really trying, but they can’t access some of these funds because of circumstances,” explained Green.

She believes the number of shut-offs is too high.

“I just got new data from the City,” Green said. “From the moratorium ending, April 26 to to May 24, 4,288 homes have been disconnected.”

The City Commissioners’ vote to resume utility disconnections was unanimous.

“We are already now well into our normal business processes, where we actually are notifying customers for their normal utility bill and suspending services where payment is not received,” said Chief Customer Officer James Barnes.

Barnes said customers are sent multiple notices and called before utilities are shut off.

However, Green said she’s talked to residents who have not heard from the city. She said communication about the expiration of the moratorium should be broadcast to the entire city.

“It was just a meeting,” said Green. “They didn’t post a press release, they didn’t put any public notices out, they didn’t send communications through their channels.”

Barnes said his department continues to work with people in need.

“Right now we have all hands on deck; we are trying to work with anyone who needs assistance. And so as we provide pay plans and extensions, these are exceptionally long calls. and right now we have folks here seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.”

There is state rental and utility assistance available; you can apply here.

The City also has a program called Project Share, where you can donate to another resident’s utility bill; you can find more information here.

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