Complaints pour in over Tryon water bills

Published 5:54 pm Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Service cut off 10 days past due date

by Leah Justice

A new water policy giving customers 10 days past their water bill due date before water is cut off has caused complaints from some Tryon customers.

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Tryon Town Council approved a new utility bill policy in May that gives customers 10 days past the due date to make the payment or the service could be cut off on the 11th day. The new policy was effective July 1.

“Utility meters will be read by the 10th day of each month and bills will be mailed no later than the 20th of the same month,” states the town’s new policy. “Utility customers’ due date shall be the 15th of the following month. Any bills that are not paid or postmarked by the 15th of the following month will be considered past due. A late payment charge as set forth in the Town’s Schedule of Fees will be assessed to all delinquent accounts on the 16th day of each month. When the 15th and or the 16th of any given month falls on any day the town hall is not open, the due date and past due date will be the next day of operation.”

Christy Anne Traylor wrote a letter to the editor saying the town is not giving proper notice of Tryon’s regulatory shut off dates. Those who face hardships and need to wait until the first of the month to catch up on their water bill will be disconnected and face $40 in fines. (see letter page 7)

“People will miss work, some may even be fired, children will miss school and basic needs will not be met as a result of this new disconnection system,” Traylor said. “It will do nothing for citizens other than cause undue hardships and the council will find a way I’m sure to waste the revenue earned while their citizens suffer.

Folks need a proper notice of disconnection with a date of service interruption clearly stated on such notice. They also need a greater grace period to pay their bills so that they have time to receive a paycheck.”

Tryon has recently had 61 customers on the cutoff list. If a customer has a balance due, the bill states the cutoff day is scheduled but does not say whether. Bills in Tryon are due on the 15th, so the service could be discontinued as early as the 26th of the month with a $35 reconnect fee.

Tryon water customer Lynn Adams told the Bulletin this week she went to turn on her water Tuesday morning and it wasn’t working. She said she thought maybe the town was doing work to the line but after calling town hall she found out her water was cut off because her bill was 10 days past due.

“It’s too short a period of time,” Adams said of the policy. “This is the water you need for your house – it’s essential to all of us. It’s just not right to do that to people.”

Adams said she’s always paid her bill, though she admits it’s been late on previous occasions.

“There are a lot of people in bad spots right now with this terrible economic situation,” Adams said. “So many responsible people, who pay their bills, are finding themselves struggling.”

Adams said if the core problem with delinquent bills stems from renters who left the area, she believes the town should make property owners responsible for bills.

“Don’t make everyone pay, who are usually responsible, for a few people that are not,” Adams said.

Tryon has found itself in the red on delinquent water bills with almost $100,000 worth of unpaid bills in recent years. Council decided to strengthen its water policy this year, similar to a policy Columbus enacted a couple of years ago following similar problems.

Columbus’ policy is that service is disconnected 11 days past the due date of the 10th of the month. Columbus’ reconnect fee is $75 with a 10 percent late fee charged on the 11th of the month if it’s past due. Last year, Columbus disconnected service to 141 customers for not paying their bills, or an average of 12 customers per month. So far this year, Columbus has cut off 85 customers’ water service.

Tryon has a payment plan for people behind on their water bills. Customers can come into town hall and sign up for a plan if they are having trouble paying their bills.

Columbus also has a payment plan for those facing hardships. Once arrangements are made, a customer can extend until the 10th of the next month before service is disconnected, but the bill has to be paid in full.

Tryon council authorized town manager Joey Davis on Aug. 20 to contract with a company so the town can accept debit and credit cards to make utility payments more customer friendly. Columbus also accepts debit and credit cards over the phone with identifying information.

Tryon Mayor Alan Peoples said he understands that people are complaining about the new policy and if there are enough complaints maybe the town should get the word out better.

“We’ve gotten more complaints that people didn’t pay their bills and in turn we had $50,000 to $60,000 worth of delinquent water bills,” Peoples said. “I don’t have any magic answers.”

Peoples said it is worth looking into at the next council meeting. Tryon Council will meet next on Sept. 17.