Saluda has $23k in delinquent water bills

Published 9:41 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Council approves purging list; discusses what is public record

After a Saluda resident said she was denied a print out of past due water bills, city council decided to purge the list to clean out ones no longer collectable, discussed what is public record and how the city may change its current policy.

Saluda commissioners met Monday, April 8 and heard from Karen Bultman who said she was appealing the denial of her request. Bultman handed out state statutes and argued that water bills are public record.

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She made clear that she wasn’t interested in the names on water bills, only a list of past due amounts instead of only the lump sum number.

“All I want is documentation to citizens that financial management is being done,” Bultman said. “Are we adhering to the rules?”

Bultman said $23,000 in past due water bills equates to a two-cent tax increase levied to people in Saluda.
City attorney Bailey Nager said individual water bills are not public record. He also said the public does not have the right to come in and create documents if those documents don’t exist.

“If the city doesn’t already have these documents without including individual names and addresses, the city doesn’t have an obligation to (provide) that,” Nager said. “It can if wants to.”

City finance officer Ron Cole said he does have a list that has names, account numbers and the amounts owed, which is on an Excel sheet so he can block out the names and account numbers. Those amounts will also include any late fees, administration said, not just the amount a customer owes for the bill.

The city can go back three years collecting water bills and four years collecting sewer bills so city council approved purging the list to get an accurate amount of what is owed that can still be collected.

The city’s policy is anyone who is 60 days past due, the tap is turned off. Bultman said if that’s the case, then there shouldn’t be any charges for the third and fourth month and if she had a list of individual amounts she could figure out if the policy is being followed.

Commissioner Leon Morgan asked if there are currently any customers who are 90 days past due who still have service and administration answered no there is not. He also asked about customers 60 days past due and administration said not that they know of.

Saluda Mayor Fred Baisden told Bultman if he remembers correctly during last month’s meeting she asked how much the delinquent water bills were and she was told $23,000. She asked the average monthly bill and was given $100. She asked the policy and was told by the time someone gets cut off the most somebody should be behind is $300. The city has a deposit of $100 so the most someone should be in the rears is $200, Baisden said.

Bultman said if you divide $23,000 by $200 that is 115 accounts. Saluda has approximately 600 customers.

“That’s what peaked me to ask are we doing things correctly,” Bultman said. “It seems to me as a percentage 115 delinquent accounts is rather high.”

Saluda City Clerk Monica Pace said the majority of the delinquent accounts are from rental properties.
Baisden said perhaps the city needs to consider making property owners responsible for the bills for rental properties. Commissioners decided to discuss options at its upcoming budget retreat.

Baisden told Bultman the city will assist her with her request and hopefully get some documents to her.
Commissioner Lynn Cass said she appreciates Bultman bringing up the issue because there has been some concern about past due bills.