Saluda approves more flexible water bill policy

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The City of Saluda approved a new water bill policy this week that will give customers more time to pay delinquent bills prior to the service being disconnected.

Saluda commissioners met May 11 and approved the new policy by a 3-1 vote, with commissioner Mark Oxtoby being the sole vote against.

Water/sewer commissioner Lynn Cass said as of May 8 there were 64 past due customers for a total of $9,800. If the previous policy were enforced, those 64 customers would have been disconnected on May 12.

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The old policy, adopted in 2013, included that all accounts past due would be disconnected 15 days after the account became past due. Bills were formerly due on the 25th of the month and service disconnected 15 days following.

The new policy states that bills are due 25 days after the postmarked date of the bill and on the 26th day a $25 late fee will be charged. After the second bill is late, disconnection orders will be given and a $100 fee will be applied to the bill. If the customer is home when the worker arrives to disconnect service, the customer will be informed of the disconnection and advised how to reconnect service. If no one is home during disconnection, the worker will leave notice of disconnect with instructions on how the customer can reconnect.

“Any account that is disconnected for nonpayment will also now be charged a

$100 reconnection fee to restore service,” states the new policy. “The entire account balance, plus the reconnection fee, will be required to be paid in full before service will be restored.”

Cass said the new policy follows Duke Power’s policy for disconnecting service.

Cass also said she has found that people seem not to mind not paying their water bill to the city but will pay other bills like their power bill. Saluda staff also said the most common excuse for customers not paying water bills are that the customer forgot. Cass encouraged any customers who are able to have their city utility bills automatically drafted from their bank accounts.

“We are almost $10,000 past due,” Cass said. “We do have to put a fine on there.”

Resident Ellen Rogers said it has been determined that cutting off someone’s water is a violation of their civil rights. She also suggested the city talk to Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry about emergency funding available for people who cannot afford to pay their water bill as well as community support for people in need.

Cass agreed speaking to Outreach is a good idea.

Cass said by suggesting a more lenient policy she is trying to come up with a policy where customers are not disconnected as quickly. Cass said where more than 60 customers would have been disconnected on the 12th the new policy will give those customers another month to pay.

Oxtoby said if the city changes the policy and doesn’t enforce it what difference does it make.

Commissioner Leon Morgan, who at first said he wanted an actual bill due date like the previous policy of the 25th of every month, said the city can try the new policy and if it doesn’t work commissioners can revisit it.

The towns of Columbus and Tryon have experienced similar issues with delinquent water bills over the last several years. A few years ago Columbus approved a new water bill policy giving customers 11 days after the due date before disconnection occurs. There is a $5 late fee charged to bills one day after the due date of the 10th of the month.

Tryon approved a similar policy to Columbus last year. Tryon’s bills are due on the 15th of the month with a $5 fee applied one day after the due date. Tryon also gives customers 10 days to pay their bills after the due date and if the bill is not paid by the 25th of the month, disconnection occurs on the 26th as well as a $25 administration fee.

All bills and fees must be paid as well as reconnection fees in all three towns prior to service being restored after disconnection.