Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bellevue battles deadbeat ratepayers

Shutoff and collections actions mount

Express Staff Writer

It's almost springtime in Bellevue and the Public Works Department is taking the opportunity of warmer weather and softer ground to shut off water services to residents who are "grossly in arrears" on their water and sewer payments.

"The key is to shut off the service while they are still in need of the service," City Clerk Dee Barton told the City Council on Thursday, March 10.

Residents are charged $20 to have the service shut off and another $20 to have it turned back on, but only when they have paid up.

Public Works Director George Tanner shut off water to two houses recently by digging in the city right of way to the water valve connecting to the houses. He told the City Council that he had four more homes to shut off, but was worried about damaging snow-covered lawns in the process.

"We just can't see what we're doing," he said.

Tanner was instructed to continue with the process when possible.

The city is also sending many water and sewer users to collections in order to recoup some of the $50,000 in overdue bills owed the city.

Some of the unpaid accounts belong to people whose homes have been foreclosed upon and are bank-owned. Barton said even some banks are not paying past dues associated with those homes.

Some residents have filed for bankruptcy and the past-due accounts have been written off by the city to balance its books.

Some residents are $2,000 to $3,000 behind on water and sewer payments but are still living in their homes. Those people could find life more difficult if they no longer have running water.

"Turnoff notices tend to get people to come in," Barton said.

The City Council agreed to implement a policy that allows only two bounced checks from utility bill payers. After that, they will be required to pay in cash only.

Those with accounts going to collections will be sent a "demand letter" and given 30 days to pay their bills in full before the account goes to Blaine County Collections, at which point a 30 percent fee will be added.

"Maybe with all these things we might see the sewer bill collections go up," Mayor Chris Koch said.

Tony Evans:

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