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York City forgave more than $350,000 in sewer and refuse bill debt for 151 individuals in the first week of its amnesty program, officials said Tuesday.

The program, described as the most generous debt forgiveness program in the city's history, lasts through March 31. After that, York Water Co. will take over bill collection and more strongly enforce overdue fees.

“I’m having people come up to me and hug me and thank me for taking this yoke off them,” Mayor Michael Helfrich said. “Something that’s been around them for years and years.”

More: York City offering one-time amnesty on back sewer, refuse payments

On the first day, lines of residents waiting to completely or partially erase their debt were out the door at City Hall, Helfrich said. 

But those lines have shrunk since then, and the city still needs to get its message out that those in arrears have time to take advantage of the program, he said. 

Under the new program, a one-time, 100% forgiveness option is available for those who are at or below the federal poverty line and owe $250 or more in sewer and refuse bills.

For example, a family of three with an annual household income of $21,330 or less would qualify under the federal standard. 

There were 52 individuals last week who chose that option, with the city forgiving about $250,000 in debt. 

For the second option, any individual who owes more than $250 — regardless of household income — can receive 50% forgiveness.

The city forgave $110,000 in debt to 99 people who qualified for the second option. Those residents also, however, had to pay a total of $110,000 to cover their half.

The third option offers a 120-month payment plan with 25% off the total money owed. The city was able to put 49 individuals on the payment plan, which would bring in $248,000 over the 10-year period.

The city will hold extended office hours until 8 p.m. on March 12, March 26 and March 31 to encourage more participation.

Those wishing to participate in the program should either go to York City Hall at 101 S. George St., call 717-849-5223 or email amnesty@yorkcity.org.

Once York Water Co. takes over bill collection in April, residents with bills 60 days late or more could be subject to water shutoff — leaving homes uninhabitable and condemned.

York City has struggled with collecting sewer and refuse fees for decades, averaging a 70% collection rate and accumulating what is now more than $10 million in uncollected fees.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.

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