More than $25,000 is owed to Oxford Village and officials want it paid or they’re going to start shutting off people’s water.
“We don’t want to shut anybody off, really, but if we have to because they ignore us or don’t pay, we will,” said Interim Manager Evan Teich.
Right now, a total of 90 properties have delinquent water and sewer bills that exceed the village’s $150 limit, the point at which customers are at risk for shutoff. These overdue bills total $25,240.
“I think we have a problem and until we actually get serious and fix it, it’s going to continue to be a problem,” said Councilman Erik Dolan.
“It shouldn’t be that high. There’s no doubt about that,” Teich said. “But because of where it is, it is very hard to get it down to a much more manageable (number).”
“Some of them are (over $150) by a couple of dollars and some of them are (over) by a much (larger) amount than that,” the interim manager explained.
For example, the number of delinquent properties was originally 91 owing a total of $27,628, but then a customer came into the village office Nov. 29 and paid their balance of $2,388.
The village sends out approximately 1,300 water/sewer bills each month.
Because of all this, a discussion regarding the village’s water/sewer billing policy took place at last week’s council meeting.
Under the policy, “all accounts with a past due balance greater than $150” or that are “more than two months delinquent shall be issued a written shut-off notice.”
“Extensions to shut-off notices or payment arrangements shall be granted only by the village manager or his/her assistant,” the policy states. “Payment arrangements should be such that the resident is paying enough to cover their current balance while simultaneously reducing their previous balance.”
“Persons on certain state or federal assistance programs, like WRAP (Water Residential Assistance Program), are not subject to this policy,” Teich told this reporter.
“We are trying to follow the policy,” said Teich to council, but “we are hampered in some ways.” He explained the village has “a very short window to turn the water off.”
According to Teich, “we need to do shut-offs on Mondays” so people have a few business days after that to pay their overdue bill and get their water service restored.
“Our concern is that they get turned back on by Thursday,” he said.
If they don’t do it by then, they have to wait and go without water until Monday because the village office is closed Friday through Sunday. Teich said neither the Department of Public Works (DPW) nor the police can take money and only the village administration can direct the DPW to restore water service.
Other limitations, according to Teich, include the number of shutoffs that can be performed in a single day and safety issues.
“In decent conditions, (the DPW) can do about 20 properties on that day,” Teich told council.
Also, he said two DPW workers need to be sent to conduct each shutoff “for security reasons.”
“Sometimes people who find us turning off their water can get vocal,” Teich explained. “They can be confrontational. It could become a he-said-she-said (situation).”
Dolan was not pleased with what he heard.
“We have taken this policy that we have and shredded it,” he said. “We don’t necessarily (do) what we say we’re going to do. It is the reason we have the problem that we have.”
Dolan said the village should not be limiting its shutoffs to a certain day of the week in order to make it “convenient” for past-due customers to get their water turned back on.
That’s not the way other communities do it.
“Some have a daily, literally a daily, (shutoff) list,” Dolan said.
“While I concur and understand that situations come up which necessitate flexibility and as a small community, we are compassionate, we are (also) an organization trying to conduct business and run this business,” he noted.
Based on four other communities he’s surveyed or is familiar with, if an individual wants their water service restored, they can come to the police department and make a payment, then DPW employees are paid overtime to do the work and a fee is assessed to the customer.
“That’s how it’s done in almost every other community,” he said.
Dolan also doesn’t believe it’s necessary for the village to send two DPW workers at a time for security reasons.
“That’s the reason we have a police department,” he said, noting “one police officer could theoretically escort” a DPW worker if necessary.
Dolan understands that “delinquency is an issue everywhere,” but he believes in the village, “we perpetuate that problem (ourselves) by not following our own procedures.”
“I’d like to see that remedied,” he said. “There is no excuse for doing otherwise.”
“I ditto that,” said village President Sue Bossardet. “This is a utility and we’re treating it like I don’t know what.”
Tech told council the administration is “trying” to get customers with delinquent water/sewer bills to comply.
“We do want to get this down to a manageable level,” he said.
The “little red cards” the village currently sends to delinquent customers to inform them they owe money “are ineffective,” according to the interim manager, so the municipality is going to start sending out 8½-by-11-inch letters that contain a shutoff date if they don’t pay.
Teich said it’s important for the village to follow through on these shutoffs.
“Because if you don’t, then people ignore it,” he said.