The Moorcroft Town Council is again facing the difficult question of how to encourage residents who are consistently in arrears by about $200 every month in their utility accounts to pay and stay up to date. The town is currently carrying “a lot of delinquent accounts”, according to Clerk/Treasurer Cheryl Schneider.
The council discussed two options – late fees or interest – as possible means by which the town can prompt those who carry a delinquency for a period of days beyond the due date. The town charges neither at this time and will have to put an ordinance in place to do so.
However, to choose either of these options could feasibly raise the town’s revenue by approximately $3000 per month on just the existing delinquencies.
Moorcroft’s attorney Jim Peck advised the council that to entertain interest is to tacitly agree to carry the debt. He also expressed his concern and confusion over the situation where as the town is carrying so many delinquent accounts.
“Newcastle has less than a half of a percent of a population of 3500 people of uncollectable accounts. I’m concerned and confused as to why there’s such a problem here when Newcastle seems to be able to do it with a population over three times the size of Moorcroft and has almost a zero loss ratio,” he said.
“They don’t charge interest because, when people’s accounts are delinquent, they’re shut down and they incur a lot of expense to get turned back on.”
Considering the present well-received option of deferred payment employed by some customers, Schneider said, “When I came, they had already implemented the deferred payment plan, but that is not in the ordinance [either], I’m hoping to continue that because it does help some folks to catch up.”
At this time, patrons who habitually do not pay their bill entirely, “stay below $250. If they reach the $250 mark, we call them and then we put the shut-off notice on their door and then, if they make a deferred payment plan, we’ll set that up with them.”
Councilman Owen Mathews explained that the dollar amount set was to basically give two months to bring people’s accounts up to date before turning them off. “It’s not the ones going over; it’s the ones that are hovering under that. They are carrying a balance; essentially they’ve having a credit of say $200 that never gets paid,” he said.
Mathews continued, “It’s always a sore spot because of people on fixed incomes and different things like that, but if we don’t have that stuff and don’t implement our ordinance we’re the Peter from whom they rob to pay Paul. I agree, it’s the motivation to get them to pay, instead of making ourselves the less painful one to not pay, when it’s the basic services for living in city limits.”
In previous years, according to Mathews, Moorcroft carried approximately $30,000 water debt “from people not paying and when [the council] directed the [clerk’s] office, they looked at it as the staff starting to be jerks to them and collecting when it is actually the direction from us; so I guess if we do this, whatever we go for, I just want to make it clear to the public that we to take that responsibility. As a business matter, it’s what the town has to do and we’re the ones directing it.”
Peck’s recommendation to the governing body moving forward is to contact Newcastle’s clerk and “ask them how to go about doing that. Because they just do not have this kind of a problem. Water or sewer is turned off and if you want to come get it restored, you have to come back and pay an increased deposit, the cost of turning it off and turning it back on. What you do is turn it off and take their deposit. If you come in and pay it before you shut off, you also pay the delinquent fee.”
The council asked Schneider to research the situation further and bring the information before them at a later meeting.
By Grace Moore