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May 4, 2014

Jeffersonville: Water shut-offs to begin Monday

City responds to overdue sewer bill problem

JEFFERSONVILLE — Starting Monday, May 5, 25 residences per week with overdue sewer bills will have their water shut off in the city.

Elisha Dale, utility billing manager for the Jeffersonville Waste Water Department, said the disconnections are in response to a deficit of $1.2 million worth of unpaid sewer bills among 9,000 to 10,000 of the 15,100 water customers.

“People just think that there’s nothing that can happen from not paying,” Dale said of the debtors, many of whom lease from a landlord and therefore believe responsibility lies with their landlords.

The city council approved an ordinance with a 5-4 vote in December that allows these water disconnections. People that have their water turned off will have to pay current and overdue bills, or agree to a long-term payment plan, plus a $65 fee before their water can be turned back on.

The city is only disconnecting delinquent residences that are customers of Indiana American Water Co., Jeffersonville’s primary water provider. All others will have a lien placed on their property, which is a claim on the property to force payment of a debt.

Residences more than 60 days late with a balance of $200 or more of outstanding payments are put on a disconnection list. Dale said disconnections are based on unpaid bills with the highest dollar amount and how many days they are overdue, beginning at the top of the list.

She said the strip mall on Meijer Road that houses Subway and El Sombrero Mexican restaurant owes the most — $12,000 worth of unpaid money — and will have water shut off this week.

“I’ve tried numerous times to contact the owner and he hasn’t returned my calls,” Dale said. “So, my hands are tied.”

The department does all it can to give residences notice of their overdue balances and the consequences that could come, said Len Ashack, utility director for Jeffersonville waste water.

“We’re not doing this in a vacuum,” Ashack said. “We’re trying to give them every opportunity to pay their sewer bills.”

Those who are overdue by 30 days will have a reminder placed on their bill. After 60 days, customers will receive a letter notifying them that they must pay their bills or sign a promissory note, or legal promise, of a long-term payment plan. Otherwise, they will be in danger of water disconnection.

“Rather than liening the property, we want to get them current on their bill, and we’ll work with them in any way we can to get them current on their bill,” Ashack said. “We know people are strapped for resources, and we’re not out to put them out of business.”

Dale said that the department has sent out 1,300 letters to residences of bills 60 days late with at least $200. Since the word has gotten out of potential water shut-offs, between 600 and 700 promissory notes have been signed, and $1.5 million of overdue plus current sewer bills was paid in April.

“Money’s coming in a little bit faster,” she said.

Dale accounted some of this increase to the new online credit card payment option the department implemented in March.

Ashack said such a significant amount of outstanding sewer bills doesn’t look good to bond issuers, who look at a city’s revenue stream and its ability to pay off debts.

“It impacts the ability of the city to bond and do projects they need to do,” Ashack said.

One of these necessary projects is combined sewer overflow interceptor work — which came via legal agreement between the city and the federal government — to limit the amount of waste that dumps into the Ohio River.

Sewer bill rate increases over the last year will help pay for the project, but some members of the Sanitary Sewer Board don’t think rate increases will cover the costs, especially if people aren’t paying their bills.

Ashack said the department is willing to work with people to help them get their  bills paid as best they can. Also, the department can make adjustments to bills to cover leaks and water for swimming pools. He said residents can get credit for water used outdoors by using a meter that measures water output.


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