Hard Times: 26 Smithfield Businesses Unable To Pay Utility Bills

234 Residential Customers Also Delinquent

Smithfield Town Manager Mike Scott says the Town wants to provide financial support for business and residential customers experiencing financial problems because of COVID-19.  As of Wednesday, 26 businesses and 234 residential customers have delinquent utility bills.

Under Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 124, utility providers are not allowed to turn off services to residential customers.  The order is scheduled to end on May 30th, but this could occur sooner if the State of Emergency Declaration is lifted.  The order does not cover businesses, and utility providers do have the option to turn off service to businesses before May 30th.  However, Smithfield won’t be doing so and plans to work with business customers the best that they can.

Scott has announced the Town will extend the same guidelines for business customers that is has for residential customers regarding late utility bills.

“The Town Council wants to provide support for business and residential customers that have financially fallen behind due to the many shutdowns and the jobs lost during this time,” Scott said. “The Council understands the Town is in partnership with these organizations and citizens and want to work with them to get their businesses and finances back in order, as well as draft a plan to pay any debt acquired during this period.”

The 26 businesses would normally be given a cutoff date this week. They have a total past due amount of $18,874.18 and have an additional balance for this month totaling an additional $17,246.04. Combined that totals $36,120.22.

As of this week, there were 234 residential customers in arrears owing $98,728 to the Town.

“We encourage each of these customers, if they have not already done so, to contact the Town’s Finance Department to begin having discussions on how to responsibly remedy the debt going forward. We also want to thank our customers who have continued to pay their utility obligations during this time, as we know these are often hard choices due to limited personal and business incomes,” Mr. Scott said.

Town Councilman Travis Scott agreed with the town managers decision not to cut off utility services to the businesses.  “We need to NOT take action by cutting off power to these businesses  and communicate with those who are having trouble and see what we can do to help them.  If we do not get back to some level of operations in our state county and city, this is likely going to cause many business to not open ever again.”

“I would like for us to have a discussion on what we can legally do to allow them to reopen once federal orders are lifted.  I have limited confidence in our “current governmental regulations”.  If you read over the phase plan it could be not until July that restaurants are allowed to return to dine in service. This is of great concern.”

“You know we don’t close the highways because people may have a car wreck, Or we would not allow our pet not to go outside or even  euthanize them just because he may go to the highway and get hit by a car..  Every part of life has risk.  Can we brainstorm as a team and with county leaders, to take a bold stand when the time is right to allow life to return in our great town, if left for Raleigh to decide it’s not on our towns best interest,” Councilman Scott added.

Councilman Dr. David Barbour also agreed to postponing utility cutoffs for the 26 businesses.  “I think we need to just let them ride. We need to inform them that we are with them during this difficult time and will work with them to fix their balance in arrears once our community is back open. If businesses are forced to be closed and no revenue coming in, that is not their fault and we need to be willing to work with them during this difficult time so they can survive this and reopen for business once this is over. It is easier to keep the businesses we have than to have to find new business once this is over. It also shows that Smithfield is small business minded and are with them and not against them and their survival,” he said in an email to fellow council members and the town manager.

Councilman Marlon Lee said it was the right decision during a pandemic. “It’s a tough situation. It’s something that we really never experienced before. Make sure you give them all the breaks. It a tough situation for these business owners to be in.”

Town Manager Scott said some of the businesses are often on a cut off list and they wait to pay their bills until they are threatened with being cut off. However, some of the businesses regularly pay and are on bank draft. Some have requested the bank draft be removed from their account because there is no money in the bank to make the payments.

“It is likely we have some businesses that are taking advantage of the situation and many that have a true inability to pay,” Scott said.

Businesses and residential customers who have any questions about their utility accounts are encouraged to contact the Town of Smithfield at 919-934-2116.