Saluda considers contracting with debt collector

Published 8:31 am Monday, May 27, 2013

Residents express concern over past due bills

The City of Saluda is considering a new debt collector that has a different and more friendly approach to collecting past due bills and taxes.

City council met May 13 and heard from Craig Halford with Transworld Systems.

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The city also heard from residents Bill Wilkerson and Karen Bultman, who both expressed concern over utility bill collections. Wilkerson asked the city to pursue filing utility liens, which would require a local bill from the state legislation.

Bultman expressed concern over a list of past utility bills she was given and asked for more detail. She said one past due bill was for $1,016.

“How many months was that?” Bultman asked. “That’s what I want to know.”

The city recently had approximately $23,000 in past due utility bills and purged bills that it could no longer collect, leaving the city with a little over $5,000 as of April. Governments can only collect sewer bills for four years and water bills for three years.

The city formerly had a debt collection agency, but it went out of business last year.
Halford, who is from Zirconia, N.C. said the older a debt gets, the less collectable it becomes. His company would charge a fixed $14 per account to make five attempts to contact Saluda’s past due customers, including three written reminders and two automated phone calls that occur in either five, seven or 10 days. The last contact, he said, gives the customer 10 days to pay or set up a payment plan or they will be turned over to a debt collector. Halford said his company acts on behalf of the city, meaning the calls and letters are from the City of Saluda.

The company gives customers options to pay as well as an envelope so they can pay Saluda.

“All contacts are directing them straight to you,” Halford said.

If payment or arrangements are not made in the first five contacts, the city will have the option to take it to the next level. The company will then make contacts in their name, as a debt collector.

“We start out by saying we understand,” Halford said, “so we give you the power of a collection agency but we’re nice.”

If after the cycle of the collection agency there is no response, Halford said the account is then turned over to attorneys. Saluda pays nothing past the first two stages unless the account is collected. If it’s collected at the last court phase, the company keeps 50 percent and the city keeps 50 percent.

“If they can be found, we find them,” Halford said. “Some people drop off into a black hole and no one can find them. I’m not going to stand here and tell you we’re going to collect everything for you. But we can minimize the bad debt.”

Commissioners did not make a decision whether or not to hire the company during the meeting. Council meets again on Monday, June 10.