News and Tribune

October 6, 2013

Thousands have unpaid sewer bills in Jeffersonville

Shutting off water may be the next step for city officials

By BRADEN LAMMERS
braden.lammers@newsandtribune.com

JEFFERSONVILLE — Nearly 20 percent of Jeffersonville residents haven’t paid their sewer bills for at least a year.

Despite collecting an additional $120,000 in overdue sewer bills in September, compared to the previous month, Utility Billing Manager Elisha Dale said about 3,000 Jeffersonville sewer customers have not paid their bills and are more than 12 months behind in their payments. The 3,000 overdue bills are out of about 16,000 total sewer customers in Jeffersonville.

As a result of the overdue payments, the city’s sewer billing office began publishing names of the top 10 offenders in delinquent bills. Since the first list was published in September, Dale said three of the top 10 offenders, including Swami Inc. — which owns Knights Inn on Eastern Boulevard — and owed $21,464; Kentucky Concrete of Indiana that owed $10,972; and Luann Varner that owed $4,071 have paid their bills in full or are working toward paying the bill.

By comparison, New Albany — which services about 16,740 customers — has 2,510 delinquent customers which are 90 days late on paying their bills. The New Albany sewer billing office places liens on those properties that have overdue bills every three months.

Jeffersonville is still looking for a way to recover the thousands of bills that remain unpaid.

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SO YOU KNOW

• Contact Jeffersonville’s sewer billing office at 812-285-6418 for more information or visit cityofjeff.net and click on “sewer payments” tab under the “residents” tab.

“Some of them, putting [their names] in the newspaper works, some of them don’t care,” said Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore.

Dale said previously that more than $1 million is still owed to the city in overdue bills and the tactic of publishing the list of the highest dollar offenders has worked before. She added, however, the practice was not sustained long enough in the past for the city to collect on all of the overdue bills.

Once published, the sewer billing office gives the property owner 21 business days to pay the bill before the next step is taken, which is to put a lien on the property. The lien would be added to the amount due on the property’s taxes and if it is still not paid, the property would eventually go up for a tax sale.

Dale said she does not know why, despite putting liens on some properties, the owners still have no paid their bills.

“This is my belief — they know we can’t do anything but attach a lien to their property,” she said, offering an explanation for why the bills have not been paid. “They can still use our services, they still have water, they can still flush their toilets.”

William Reedy — operations manager of Southern Indiana Operations for Indiana American Water who was in attendance for Thursday’s sewer board meeting — said that in other municipalities an agreement has been reached with the water company to shut off service for people that have not paid their sewer bills.

“There’s an Indiana statute that allows, or that can require, the water utility to disconnect service for nonpayment of the sewer,” Reedy said.

He added that a fee of $65 is charged to the city to disconnect and reconnect the water service to an individual’s home. The bill is not sent to the city until the water is turned back on at the home.

“At the end of the month, we would bill the city for however many of those there are,” Reedy said.

He added another option is that the costs to shut off the water could also be passed along to the customers who have not paid their bill.

Wastewater Superintendent Len Ashack and Reedy agreed to sit down and work out the details of an agreement and bring it back to the sewer board’s next meeting.

In trying to collect the overdue money, Dale added that the sewer billing office is willing to work with customers that may not be able to pay their entire bill immediately.

“If they just make an attempt, we’re willing to work with them,” she said.