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Woman Questions Waterford Utility Commission’s Billing Policy

A Waterford woman questions why the Waterford Utility Commission does not send out late notices – unlike other municipal collection agencies.

A Waterford woman is questioning why the Waterford Utility Commission does not send out late notices – a process used by other municipal departments – after she was given a penalty both sides agree were out of her control.

Elaine Munson sent an e-mail to Patch and First Selectman Dan Steward Friday wanting to know why she wasn't notified of an outstanding $2 fee, which she said unnecessarily multiplied to $6. Munson stressed that the money is not a big deal, but instead the principal of why she wasn’t notified. 

“It is really not fair to people who don’t know,” Munson said. “I couldn’t correct it, I didn’t know.”

Unlike other municipal agencies, the Waterford Utilities Commission does not send out late notices to its customers. Meanwhile, Waterford Utility Commission Chairman Peter Green admits the commission has a problem collecting money from customers, and a proposed 6.28 percent rate increase by the commission could be avoided – at least for a time – if everybody paid their bill.

Still, Green said sending late notices might not fix the problem. Instead, Green said other municipalities like New London can shut off the water of delinquent sewer consumer, while Waterford does not have that option.

“They have a hammer we don’t have,” Green said.

The Issue

On July 31, Elaine Munson sent an electronic check to the Waterford Utility Commission for her roughly $135 July sewer bill, which was due at the end of the month. However, for reasons unknown, the Waterford Utility Commission did not receive the check until August 6.

Because the payment was late one month, Munson was charged a $2 fee. People are either charged either a $2 fee or interest of 1.5 percent a month – whatever is higher – per state mandate.

Munson’s concern is that although she paid off her bill, she didn’t pay off that fee and was continued to be charged $2 a month. Then, when she got her bill in October, it said she had a $6 fee.

Munson wasn’t worried about the dollar amount – which wound up being paid by the bank anyway because the check could have come in late – but argued the principal. If somebody is late on a payment, they should know they are late, she said.

When she asked the secretary of the Waterford Utility Commission why no notification was sent out, the secretary said it is up to the consumer to call the commission to ensure the bill was paid. There is no way for a consumer to check if the bill was paid online.

“That’s not effective for people,” Munson said. “The answer is they need to tell people.”

So Why Not?

Friday morning, Patch asked Green why the commission doesn’t send late notes to consumers, and he said they would find out the next time a bill was sent out, which is every three months, with the interest applied. Patch asked why not send one out a month later to increase the chance of collection, and Green said it would be a large administrative job and he said no other entity he knew of does that.

However, Patch contacted New London Public Utilities, and a secretary there said New London sends out late notices once a bill is one month late. Patch also talked to Waterford Tax Collector Mark Burnham, and he said he sends out late notices to customers once they are one month late on property taxes and two months late on motor vehicle taxes.

“You have to put something in front of them every so often,” Burnham said. “Otherwise, it is out of sight, out of mind.”

Patch called Green again and told him that other municipal departments do send out late notifications a month after the bills are due. Green said it was something the Utility Commission could consider, but said the big reason New London has a high collection rate is it has the ability to shut the water off.

Right now, if somebody from Waterford pays their water bill to New London but doesn’t pay their sewer bill to Waterford, the town can do nothing. Green said the commission is looking to have it changed, so New London will shut off the water if a Waterford consumer doesn’t pay their Waterford sewer bill.

Still, Patch asked why not send out the late notices to increase the chance of collection. Green said the problem is not people who miss one bill, but instead people who miss bill after bill after bill.

“Our problem doesn’t seem to be the one-time person who failed to pay their bill,” Green said. “Our biggest problem is people who have not paid for a long period of time, who have received many notices and letters.”

Collection Issues

Meanwhile, on Monday Green asked the Waterford Representative Town Meeting for a 6.28 percent rate increase after sewage processing costs skyrocketed. During the meeting, Green said there were up to $600,000 in late fees, and if they were collected it would possibly defer the need for a rate increase.

Green said the real solution is to get the ability to shut off the water, and even have people’s names printed in the newspaper if they don’t pay. Green said a late notice might help, but the real answer is the aforementioned policies.

Paul October 06, 2012 at 12:33 PM
I sure would like the RTM & BOS who oversees the utility commission as well as all of the full time employees to get to the bottom of this. The genuineness of this department and commission comes into question when a chairman of that commission presents information before the RTM that rates need to be increased because of increased treatment costs when in fact it appears that the reason for the supposed rate increase is due to delinquent rate payers and the possibility of adding a full time paid position to the commission that is currently being reviewed by the PRB. I completely understand the need to pay the city of NL for services rendered but to pay for an increase that is driven by delinquent rate payers and added full time positions is unacceptable.
Kevin Girard October 06, 2012 at 12:54 PM
To me, both Green and Ms. Munson have valid arguments. It would obviously be burdensome to send out late notices for people who are simply a month late, or $2 in arrears (it would cost the town postage, even at a cut rate, to send these out to collect that money, and as Mr. Green says, it probably won't get the worst offenders anyhow), but it also seems reasonable that a customer not pay interest on money they might not know they owe. Perhaps some sort of email reminder system would be a reasonable compromise.
David Irons October 06, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Excuse me, "it is up to the consumer to call the commission to ensure the bill was paid"? How would the Utilities Commission react if every Waterford customer were to call at the end of the next billing period to insure that their payment had been received? The phone lines would be overloaded and the office overwhelmed and unable to handle the number of calls. Perhaps not the best response by the secretary.
Bette Knupp October 06, 2012 at 01:16 PM
I had the SAME conversation with the Waterford Utility Commission on Thursday regarding a $2/month late charge for a payment due July 31, paid electronically by my bank. The WUC said pmt was late. I disagreed with them but got nowhere.
Elaine Munson October 06, 2012 at 01:54 PM
When I questioned the $6 interested to Dan Steward I was advised that I could submit a letter to Chairman Peter Green, PO Box 310, Waterford and the letter would be reviewed for possible credit to my account. I plan on doing this because I do not feel there practice is fair. My bank did end up reimbursing me the late fee, but I still feel it is the town's issue and would like to get the money back to the bank.
Edna Silva October 06, 2012 at 02:25 PM
I work in a medical office and "electronic checks" often take 5-7 days to reach the other party. We have this happen alot. People need to allow time for the process when this use this online banking option. Don't wait until the last days of the month to pay. Simple solution....
David Irons October 06, 2012 at 02:42 PM
I can write a real check and mail it and it will be to my creditor sooner than 5-7 days. Other than the measly 45 cents postage, where is the benefit of electronic checks if they take 5-7 days to reach their destination? I always equated "electronic" with instantaneous.
David Irons October 06, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Just another thought, but in cases where these electronic payments take 5-7 days, are the banks playing games with our money?
ElleJay October 06, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Great article, Paul! As Kermit the frog would say, "It isn't easy being Green!"
Daniella Ruiz October 06, 2012 at 06:07 PM
true, and they might have to hire a person to handle this 'surge' of calls from wasted effort, and then demand ANOTHER RATE INCREASE to cover that new payroll cost! LOL! dave, that secretary is a shoe in for some clever government job, passing the cost AND the responsibility off on to the customer AND expanding a government bureaucracy at the same time! draconian responses (ie-shut their water/electric off!) to basic health needs of a family or person should be the very LAST thing under the control of a so called 'public' utility. what's next? some form of financial scoundrel finding a way to throw people into the street because they fall onto hard times? oooops, i forgot, the banksters have already finessed that one into a cold hard reality!
Daniella Ruiz October 06, 2012 at 06:13 PM
apparently these financial agents are skimming some fee off these transfers, by delaying the transaction. your money is clearly not available in your account, and it isn't showing up in the utilities account either. this could be some federal issue regarding financial laws. consider if this happens to the millions of transfers done by millions of people everywhere. last i knew, these bums don't use bicycle messengers carrying bags of cash from your account to the recipient, its electronic, it's INSTANT!
Daniella Ruiz October 06, 2012 at 06:18 PM
apparently these financial agents are skimming some fee off these transfers, by delaying the transaction. your money is clearly not available in your account, and it isn't showing up in the utilities account either. this could be some federal issue regarding financial laws. consider if this happens to the millions of transfers done by millions of people everywhere. last i knew, these bums don't use bicycle messengers carrying bags of cash from your account to the recipient, its electronic, and it's as fast as the internet! this could be something for Senator Blumenthal to look into, as the magnitude of this could be immense. would someone write to him and let him know! perhaps a few million letters would get his attention.
David Irons October 06, 2012 at 06:54 PM
Daniella, "would someone write to him and let him know"? Excuse me but are you "someone" or are you a "no one"? Why not write him yourself? That is the problem today. Too many people with solutions but not wishing to do anything themselves. I do not do electronic payments myself and only commented here with my observations and thoughts.
Jaded October 07, 2012 at 05:11 AM
In this case, I have to admit that I side with Ms. Munson. When you own a home, hold a job and have other personal responsibilities it is very easy to misplace a piece of mail...So, a payment might get made at the end of the month or perhaps even the following month once you finally stumble across the bill again. While I understand that lateness cannot go un-'punished', I too have been victim to an electronic system where my payment was lost in cyberspace for quite some time. In such cases, it is very helpful to get a friendly reminder or even a notice declaring late fees are owed. Perhaps, if the WUC was more consumer-friendly (as opposed to giving "call in" directives and shutting off services) for those folks who are honestly trying to pay up, we wouldn't even need to have this conversation.

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