Dozens of people protested in front of Ephrata Borough hall Tuesday night, asking council members to reinstate a moratorium on electric and water shutoffs.
They said they're not asking for the debts to be forgiven, but for the borough to stop shutoffs and do more to work with people through the pandemic. And they said social service agencies that the borough typically directs people to face high demand and have limited resources.
Unlike other municipalities in Lancaster County, Ephrata runs its own utility service and is not subject to a moratorium based on the governor's emergency declaration.
The borough has done two rounds of shut-offs so far, on Aug. 20 and 27, in which a total of 46 homes lost electricity and 15 homes had their water shut off. Of those, all have had water restored and all but 10 electric customers have been reconnected, according to Tracy L. Roseberry, the borough's business office manager.
Roseberry said in an email Tuesday that 39 electric customers and 7 water customers are scheduled to be disconnected Thursday.
Several of the roughly 60 protesters, including Leah Volker, spoke during a council work meeting afterward, all but one speaking against the shutoffs.
"We need to come together as a community and help these people, not punish them," Volker said, expressing concern about struggling people losing those services during the pandemic.
Under borough rules, residents who are 90 days late in payment can have the electricity and water shut off.
Speaking during the meeting, multiple members of council said that of 52 households that had been disconnected so far, 51 were habitually delinquent before the pandemic began.
Council member Ricky Ressler said the decision to resume cutoffs was not made hastily, and no one wants to see people without services.
But, he said, the borough has always directed those in financial distress to state and federal agencies and social service organizations.
"Ephrata Borough does not have the resources or the structure for those needs," he said.
Council did not reinstate the moratorium.
The protest was organized by Northern End Stands Up, a branch of Lancaster-based social activism group Lancaster Stands Up.
Here's an early look at the protest in #Ephrata, which officially starts at 6:30. There's a drone overhead and I'm told at least part of the borough work group session at 7 will be in the outdoor corral. pic.twitter.com/rTUVxlu81R— Heather Stauffer (@HStaufferLNP) September 8, 2020
I count about 40 people here, including a few kids with their parents. pic.twitter.com/pZoiVwLRMJ— Heather Stauffer (@HStaufferLNP) September 8, 2020
Here's a quick look. pic.twitter.com/WY1mV5cV7P— Heather Stauffer (@HStaufferLNP) September 8, 2020
32-year-old Suzy Wurtz of Ephrata is one of the Northern End Stands Up protest organizers. pic.twitter.com/ZgabJIDTKO— Heather Stauffer (@HStaufferLNP) September 8, 2020
Another speaker says they're not asking for the debts to be forgiven but for the borough to reinstate the moratorium and work with the families.— Heather Stauffer (@HStaufferLNP) September 8, 2020
Now more like 55-60 people here by my count.— Heather Stauffer (@HStaufferLNP) September 8, 2020