Tryon looks to aggressively pursue late water bills

Published 10:47 pm Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Current delinquent down to almost $38k

The Town of Tryon has decided to aggressively pursue delinquent water bills, including the possibility of strengthening its policies in the future.

Town council met Tuesday, April 16 and reviewed its current policies and heard that the total delinquent amount is currently at $37,956, which is down $12,724 from last month when that total was almost $50,000 overdue.

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Council approved purging amounts that are past the statute to collect on inactive accounts. Interim town manager Joey Davis said the town has identified 26 accounts that are past the statute. The state allows the town to collect up to three years past due on water bills and four years past due on sewer bills.

Tryon’s current policy is after a bill is 30 days overdue, the town puts it on the list for the water to be cut off, which normally occurs on the last Wednesday of the month. The problem Tryon encounters is if a person uses water in the month of January, they are billed for that in February, which is not due until March 15. The bill is considered overdue on April 15 (30 days later), so essentially, a customer could owe for the months of January, February, March and almost all of April before their water is cut off. Another policy discussed is Tryon’s payment program, where customers who are overdue can set up a payment plan.

Town attorney Bailey Nager said according to tax collector Pam Justice customers are frequently cut off from service. Tryon charges a reconnect fee of $35 and according to the town’s ordinance, customers are supposed to pay the entire unpaid amount prior to being reconnected, which Nager said is not always happening, partly because of to the payment plan.

Nager suggested council consider whether its current water deposit is appropriate compared to its potential exposure.

Currently Tryon charges a $100 deposit to connect water for residential customers and a $125 deposit for commercial customers. The average bill for inside city limit customers (water, sewer, garbage) is $80 to $100 per month and out of town customers (typically water only) is $60 to $70 per month, said Nager.

Nager said Tryon could consider charging higher deposits for renters than homeowners. Columbus charges a $150 deposit for renters compared to a $75 deposit for homeowners.

Commissioner Doug Arbogast suggested Tryon shorten its time from when a person gets a bill and when the water is cut off.

Nager said Columbus has a very strict policy, with bills going out on the 20th of the month, due on the 10th and overdue with a late fee on the 11th. Columbus cuts off service on the 21st of the month if the bill is not paid.

Nager explained Tryon’s payment program saying that anyone who is several months overdue can fill out an application with the town manager to make payment plan. Nager said, according to staff, people could always stay three months behind. Water is cut off if those customers fail to make payments but because they have a payment plan they pay the $35 reconnect fee and not the balance due.

“I think that this program is a bigger part of the problem in terms of the bigger bills you’re getting,” said Nager.

Davis said he sees three to five payment plan applications per month and there are some people who do payment extensions who are “as good as gold.” There are others the town has issues collecting payment, Davis said, but there are good ones out there as well.

Commissioners Roy Miller and Arbogast said they spoke with former town manager Jim Fatland regarding his former policy, which they said worked here and is working where Fatland is currently employed.
Arbogast said Fatland’s policy on getting customers caught up was that they had to pay the current bill and 10 percent of the remaining.

Davis said the delinquent accounts have been caught up tremendously. He said with at one time during former manager Justin Hembree’s employment the total amount was over $90,000.

Davis said the town has two different delinquent accounts; active and inactive. The inactive accounts get sent to the state debt pay off program, where tax returns are garnished. He said other municipalities go through collection agencies, so that’s another possibility for Tryon.

“I would say we need to continue to focus on it,” said commissioner Wim Woody.

Arbogast said shortening the billing cycle would help it immensely.

Council decided to discuss options further next month and to possibly monitor delinquent bills every month.