County hikes sewer bill late fees

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 13, 2000

Commissioners increased the late payment fee Thursday for overdue Union-Rome Sewer District bills.

Saturday, May 13, 2000

Commissioners increased the late payment fee Thursday for overdue Union-Rome Sewer District bills. The existing 1 percent late payment penalty will become a 15 percent penalty effective on the May billing cycle, which is mailed in June.

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The penalty increase comes in response to financial problems the county has faced with the district and to a user advisory committee’s recommendations, commissioners said.

"It’s time something was done," commissioner Paul Herrell said.

About 40 percent of Union-Rome’s more than 4,000 customers do not pay sewer bills, which has caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, Herrell said.

The Union-Rome Sewer Advisory Board has dealt with the issue for months, trying to avoid the county ultimately asking for a rate increase to cover the loss of revenue from delinquent bills.

Board members said users cannot stand by and watch the dollars in delinquent sewer bills pile up because that could destroy the system’s budget and affect customers in the future.

Commissioners already predict the sewer system budget will not contain a necessary carryover balance next year, or it will be in the red.

Increasing late fees will help the district maintain its self-sufficiency, commission president Bruce Trent said.

"I think the 15 percent will get the people paying the accounts and we won’t be behind," sewer district administrator Tim Porter said.

Although the increase will not affect currently delinquent bills – those placed on the property tax rolls for collection – Trent said the county will become more aggressive, enforcing current rules that require sewer bills to be paid before taxes.

"We will enforce the law and collect it," he said. "Either you pay it or your property goes up for sale."

Trent also asked for other ideas on bolstering the sewer district’s budget before Thursday’s vote to increase the late fees, adding that the sewer advisory board has been holding public meetings on the issue for months.

"If there are any other recommendations, now’s the time," he said.

There was no response. All three commissioners voted in favor of the increase.

A letter outlining the fee will be sent to all sewer district customers before the June billing cycle.

Commissioners also will hold a 6:30 p.m. meeting May 22 at Fairland High School to continue discussions with American Water Services, a sister company of Ohio-American Water.

The company opened sewer takeover discussions with the county last year and proposes to manage the sewer district to increase its financial operating efficiency.

Commissioners and other officials are expected to review draft contracts with the company during the May 22 meeting.

Also Thursday, commissioners heard from Ed Schulte, architect from Levin, Porter and Associates in Dayton, about new jail construction.

The company has designed new jails for Greene and Miami counties, and came to Lawrence County to present a preliminary proposal.

County commissioners have been discussing a new county lockup, citing space and safety concerns of the current jail.

Schulte told commissioners that state corrections officials decided recently not to build multi-county jails anymore, so extra money set aside for those types has pushed the state’s construction grant limit up to $35,000 per bed, an increase of $10,000, Schulte said.

And that is good news for the county, commissioners said.

"I’m impressed with the (low) construction cost on the Greene County jail," commissioner George Patterson said.

"If that could be designed to fit our needs, since we can get $35,000 per bed now, we’d definitely be interested," Patterson said.

Commissioners already had planned a tour of the Greene County facility, now tentatively set for mid-June.

Schulte also advised the county to complete a jail needs study, because state officials require that document before approving the per-bed grant funds. The state deadline for the grants comes in August, he said.