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.
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.”
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.