MVWA Considering Move To Post Delinquent Customers On-Line
Utica, NY (WIBX) - Currently, if Mohawk Valley Water Authority customers are more than $200 behind on their water bill, they get a shut-off sticker notice with 20-days to pay, before the company physically shuts off water to the home. However, if 1st Ward Councilman Frank Vescera and some landlords get their way, the penalty will include posting a customer's non-payment information on the internet, and the implementation of a sewer and water deposit -- through the "Housing Stock Stabilization & Abatement of Delinquent Sewer Payments" proposal, which would affect new water customers.
MVWA, Executive Director, Patrick Becher said, "And, this is really coming from Councilman Vascera, it's some sort of mechanism where they can screen tenants. They want to know if a tenant has not paid a water bill, if there' s a way that they can find that out, so that they can make decisions about who they let move into their apartment, or don't let move in. And, so they've asked us, the water authority, to post this information, or make it available, so that landlords can see and screen tenants." Becher said the issue is under consideration by the board and more than likely will get approved during the next meeting scheduled for the 3rd Monday in April.
Vescera said he looked to Auburn, Alabama, a college town that successfully tackled its high rate of unpaid water bills from its transient student population. He said the program required that students pay their May water bill before September, the start of a new school year, or risk losing out on qualifying for an apartment. Vescera said not instituting some kind of mechanism implicates the water authority and added that the inaction on their part amounts to, "aiding and abetting this bad behavior and the theft of services."
"It's their duty and their obligation to do so because they can't say that they don't know the repercussion of their inaction. They see what happens, they see their customer base shrinking because every time a house or a property goes into foreclosure or a property gets knocked down that's a loss of a customer." Vescera insists that the issue directly relates to the number of foreclosures in the city.
Becher says the water authority has about a 99-percent collection rate and the new rule is to target the 1-percent of delinquent customers. However, Vescera counters that that 1-percent actually wreaks havoc on the local economy. "The water bills are attached to foreclosures ... a fast majority, out of a 100-properties, probably 80 or 90-percent of those properties, just before the foreclosure occur, or before they give it up to the city, had a huge water bill because a tenant came in, let the water run, and caused maybe an $800 or $1200 water bill, on top of the taxes that people on fixed incomes just can't afford," Vescera said.
Becher said the authority offered Vescera an alternative to dealing with the 1-percent of delinquent customers adding that, "If there's a specific concern about one segment of the population, the segment that they're dealing with, maybe there are alternative ways to make that [information] available upon request for a specific landlord, for a specific tenant but what he would like to see is something more wide ranging. And, I think with what we're grappling with here, internally with staff and our board is; is there a good compromise that works for everybody?"
Becher says the MVWA board is not required to hold a public hearing on the matter in order to implement the policy change, and start posting the delinquent payment information on-line saying, "we'll have to wait and see what they say." He added that customers who are behind on their bill could see their non-payment information as soon as this summer, if not sooner.