Saluda water policy disconnects accounts 15 days past due

Published 9:38 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2013

by Samantha Hurst

Saluda plans to disconnect about 30 water customers Wednesday, Sept. 11 if their bills are not paid in accordance with the new water policy council approved in August.

“I do expect a lot of people to come in last minute – that often happens,” said Saluda City Clerk Monica Pace.

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Pace said a letter was sent out to all customers scheduled for disconnection reminding them of the city’s new policy.

The policy states that all accounts with a past due balance will now be disconnected 15 days after the account becomes past due. All water bills in Saluda are due on the 25th of each month. Disconnection notices will go out shortly after the month’s billing cycle (10 days), and a disconnect will take place five days after the date of the disconnect letter.

Any account disconnected will now be charged a $100 reconnection fee to restore service. The entire account balance, plus the reconnection fee will be required to be paid in full before service will be restored.

Saluda previously charged a $25 fee, but Mayor Fred Baisden said the city needed a tougher penalty.

“Our primarily problem in terms of delinquent bills is with renters. So, we looked at what an average water bill was and looked at how much they owed by the time they were cut off,” Baisden said. “Doing that [setting the deposit at $150 for new customers and increasing the reconnection fee], we thought maybe we would not lose as much money as we had in the past.”

Baisden said officials realizes the reconnection fee might be a burden on some individuals, but said the city hopes customers would not let their bill get behind enough to require disconnection.

“We try to work with people as much as we can, but by the same token we have about 99 percent of our customers that do pay their bill on time. The primary objective here is to not get into the situation we were in previously,” Baisden said.

Saluda officials in April discovered the city had $23,000 in delinquent bills still on record. The city soon after purged the list of all water bills older than three years and sewer bills older than four years because state law prohibits towns from collecting on bills that far back. When the city did so it removed 58 accounts or $17,555 from its records.

Pace said the board has met with a debt collection agency, but has not contracted with anyone to go after past due accounts that can still be collected. Pace said part of the problem is finding valid addresses for those individuals who have moved.

Commissioner George Sweet at the city’s August meeting said the Saluda is down to less than one percent of the year’s revenues not collected. He said in his mind that is a good percentage.

In August the city disconnected three meters that were past due from July.

As of the Monday, Sept. 9 meeting Saluda had as many as 34 customers delinquent on their water bills from August. Those 34 accounts amount to $3,931.26, but Pace said multiple customers dropped by city hall Tuesday, Sept. 10 to make payments.

Saluda offers an automatic draft program that allows customers three days of the month to have their bill amount taken directly from their checking account. The letter suggests this might help some customers avoid late fees or disconnection from non-payment. Customers who enroll in this program will receive a bill in the mail so they can monitor consumption and have a record of the payment amount.

Pace said the city’s new policy was also sent to anyone on the city’s email notification list, it was posted at city hall and will be posted to the city’s website as well as Saluda Lifestyles.

Anyone with questions about their bill, the new policy or the automatic draft program, is encouraged to contact city hall at 828-749-2581.