Tryon to aggressively go after delinquent utility bills

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, September 2, 2014

by Leah Justice
The Town of Tryon could soon hire a collection agency to go after inactive utility bills and is considering making changes to or eliminating its utility extension agreement, or payment plan.
Tryon Town Council met Aug. 19 and discussed ways to collect both active and inactive delinquent accounts.
Town manager Joey Davis said the previous board of commissioners made adjustments to the cutoff date and the town recently implemented credit card payments so delinquent bills decreased for a while but the town is beginning to see those numbers rise again. Davis said the inactive accounts show between $20,000 and $25,000 owed to the town currently.
Commissioner George Baker said Tryon may consider a larger deposit for renters and said the town needs to make sure it is not giving back deposits to people who owe money.
Tryon Mayor Jim Wright said he sees no reason Tryon should be nice to people who no longer live in the town and owe money.
“I’m trying to find a reason you should be nice to people with inactive accounts,” Wright said. “My theory is, if they’re inactive, go get them.”
Commissioners approved directing Davis to recommend a collection agency to go after inactive accounts. Davis was directed to come back with a contract for council to approve.
Commissioners also discussed its currently policy of allowing customers who cannot pay their utility bills to set up a payment plan.
Baker said he doesn’t want to cut anyone off but if they use $50 worth of water and they pay the town $30 per month it isn’t working. Their balance is growing and they continue to consume water, he said.
“I just don’t know how we justify that to the rest of the citizens,” Baker said. “You can’t go in the hole every month. You have to at least stay even.”
Wright said the town operates a utility just like Duke Energy or a cell phone service.
“We ought to follow the same general concept,” said Wright. “If your electric bill is climbing, at some point you are going to be without electricity, which is a commodity.”
He suggested looking over the next couple of months at other providers’ policies.
Commissioner Happy McLeod said she isn’t worried about customers who get behind one or two months but 90 days is a different story.
Baker suggested the town looks at its payment plan and who gets on it, saying, “let’s get this money back in our pockets.”
Wright said the town should consider grandfathering customers currently on payment plans then implement a no more payment plan policy.
McLeod said she would like to keep a payment plan option for people with extenuating circumstances.
“Someone may lose a job,” she said.
Commissioner Roy Miller suggested Davis come back at the September meeting with collection agency and payment plan recommendations.
Town attorney Bailey Nager said the Town of Columbus went through a similar situation a few years ago and they tightened their policies and it seems to be going well.
Commissioner Bill Ingham said to be fair Tryon has the highest water bills around.
“Somehow we need to look at getting those rates back down where the rest of them are,” Ingham said. “We are way higher.”
McLeod said at one point Tryon had discussed talking with the Inman-Campobello Water District (ICWD) about Tryon’s water system. Tryon has discussed in the past the possibility of selling its system to get out of the water business.
Davis said he could have ICWD come in and speak with council but Tryon needs to understand ICWD only handles water, not sewer.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox