Por­terdale mulls water de­posit for some

The Covington News - - Front Page - JAY JONES

Por­terdale city of­fi­cials de­scribed a pro­posed tier sys­tem for water de­posits as a sig­nif­i­cant change for new cus­tomers that would have those with risky credit pay more up front.

Re­ferred to as the “red, yel­low and green” scale dur­ing Tues­day’s Por­terdale City Coun­cil work ses­sion, the pro­posal would re­quire the amount of a de­posit to be based on credit checks on all new water ser­vice ap­pli­ca­tions. Those with a poor credit his­tory would be asked to pay a higher de­posit to cover pos­si­ble fu­ture non­pay­ment of util­ity bills, while those with good credit would be re­quired to pay a smaller de­posit.

Por­terdale City Man­ager Bob Thom­son ex­plained the pro­posal as an at­tempt to cut down on the num­ber of util­ity bill de­faults. The city av­er­ages about 10 to 14 water ser­vice cut-offs per month.

The pro­posal would re­move a dis­count to home­own­ers, who pay $75 de­posit com­pared to $250 for renters. Thom­son said he has found a per­son’s credit is not af­fected much by whether they pay rent or a mort­gage.

“What I’m ask­ing you to con­sider is that the renter’s de­posit and home­owner’s de­posit be about the same be­cause you’re ex­posed in both ways,” he said.

Last year, Por­terdale re­ported a 98 per­cent col­lec­tion rate for water ser­vices. Thom­son said the num­bers showed great im­prove­ment from years past; how­ever, the city av­er­ages be­tween $10,000 and $14,000 in un­paid water ac­count bal­ances an­nu­ally.

Mayor Ar­line Chap­man said she was open to a new way for the city to man­age water billing.

She noted Por­terdale’s sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of rental units places even more pres­sure on the city be­cause land­lords sign up tenants with­out re­gard for their abil­ity to pay for util­i­ties.

“These peo­ple are be­ing set up for dis­as­ter. You’re putting them in a home, you’re turn­ing on the water know­ing that some­where down the pike you’re go­ing to cut that water off,” she said. “I think that we are com­plicit if we don’t do some­thing to not al­low this to hap­pen.”

Res­i­dents who have their water ser­vice cut off are charged $40 in late fees and a $55 re­con­nect fee and are re­quired to bring their past due ac­count cur­rent.

City of­fi­cials said the av­er­age monthly water bill in Por­terdale is about $85 and varies de­pend­ing on the num­ber of res­i­dents in a house.

New de­posit amounts were briefly dis­cussed. Thom­son said the pro­posal pre­sented has green ap­pli­cants re­ceiv­ing a de­posit waiver for good credit.

Yel­low ap­pli­cants would pay a mod­er­ate de­posit and red ap­pli­cants would pay the max­i­mum de­posit.

Coun­cil­man Low­ell Cham­bers sug­gested a per­son with bad credit be re­quired to pay three months of av­er­age billing for de­posit, while some­one with a lit­tle bet­ter credit pay a de­posit of two months billing and those with great credit pay a de­posit equal to one month’s av­er­age water billing.

Thom­son said he will have a draft or­di­nance ready for the coun­cil’s April 3 reg­u­lar meet­ing.

In other news, the city dis­cov­ered the out­stand­ing bal­ance from un­col­lected util­ity ser­vices was much higher than pre­vi­ously thought.

Thom­son re­ported the col­lec­tion agency Pro­fes­sional Place­ment Ser­vices told the city it had $86,000 in un­paid bal­ances.

The dis­cov­ery came as Por­terdale be­gan to switch col­lec­tion ser­vices from PPS to a new agency, Dar­nel Quick Re­cov­ery.

Thom­son ex­plained the city wrote off about $147,000 rep­re­sent­ing the old­est past due ac­counts as bad debt in 2008 but for rea­sons not clear the ac­counts were put back on the city’s books in 2009.

“City staff is work­ing to track all 662 past due ac­counts to move them from PPS to Dar­nel, but the con­fu­sion over the ex­act amount past due will slow the process,” Thom­son said.

“We would like to do ev­ery­thing as quickly as we can, but I can’t give you a num­ber of days that it would take ex­cept that it will be a chunk a day,” he said.

Thom­son added that au­di­tors will ad­dress what can be done with the ac­counts when they be­gin the city’s an­nual au­dit next month.

Coun­cil­woman Linda Fin­ger re­quested Thom­son make util­ity col­lec­tions a per­ma­nent agenda item to give the City Coun­cil monthly up­dates. Thom­son agreed.

“I think as long as we have that much money out­stand­ing, we’re talk­ing about a cou­ple of peo­ple’s salaries, this will keep it in the front of our minds,” Fin­ger said.

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