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December 27, 2012

Delinquent New Albany sewer bills come in lower

New Albany Sewer Board filing three sets of liens annually on average

NEW ALBANY — The money owed by the top delinquent municipal utility customers in the city has dipped considerably compared to just a few years ago.

According to records obtained from the city at the request of the News and Tribune, the top 10 delinquent accounts in New Albany for municipal utilities totaled about $29,500 as of Dec. 21.

Municipal utilities covers trash, stormwater and sewer services, though wastewater typically accounts for the bulk of overdue payments.

As recent as two years ago, some people owed more than $50,000 for outstanding utility bills to New Albany per account.

When wastewater rates were increased by the New Albany Sewer Board and City Council in 2010 to aid the financially strapped utility, officials stepped up efforts to collect on debt. The sewer board began authorizing more liens on delinquent properties, and the New Albany Municipal Utilities office responded by filing hundreds of liens on outstanding accounts.

Last year, the utility announced it had collected almost $900,000 in outstanding debt by filing liens on bills owed prior to 2011.

By state law, an account has to be delinquent for at least 90 days before a city can file a lien against a property owner.

Sewer board member Ed Wilkinson said the utility established a process where customers are sent a prelien notice once their account hits the 90-day overdue mark. If the customer doesn’t take care of the debt, they are placed on the lien list when their account reaches the four month outstanding date.

If the bill isn’t paid, the city can eventually recoup its money from a property with a lien attached if the land is ever sold.

“What this has done is confirm that the city’s policy will be routinely enforced, so people kind of get in the process of staying caught up or not getting as far behind,” Wilkinson said.

For a single account, the most money owed to the city for utilities is $4,362. The service name on the account is NexGen, located at 4300 Security Pkwy., and the owner’s name is listed as BJ Limited Holdings. Second on the list is Malachi 331, LLC, located at 1638 Slate Run Road, and the amount owed is $3,645.

However when combining delinquent accounts, Jacque Hunter would owe the most of the top 10 outstanding balance holders. He is listed as the owner of a property at 1306 E. Market St., as well as for Slate Creek Apartments, which combined account for more than $5,600 in outstanding debt.

It was unclear whether the 10th outstanding account on the list also belongs to Hunter. The owner of the property, listed as 1000 E. Main St., was recorded as R.J. Hunter with a balance of $2,595.

In most cases, it is against state law to turn off sewer service to a property due to nonpayment.

Mayor Jeff Gahan, who appointed himself as chairman of the sewer board in January, said delinquencies can adversely affect the cash flow of the utility.

“People in New Albany pay high enough sewer rates, so we’re doing everything we can do to make sure the operation runs efficiently,” Gahan said. “Part of that is making sure our collections are current, and the sewer utility office and sewer board are doing everything they can do to keep it running smoothly.”

Wilkinson said the sewer department is appreciative of the efforts of city residents and property owners to stay current with their utility payments. The utility doesn’t enjoy filing liens but the system is fair, he continued.

Gahan added that if someone is having difficulty paying their bills, they should contact the utility office and arrange to appear before the sewer board. For more information, contact the billing office at 812-948-5399.

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