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City: Shut off water for late payment?

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Greenwood wants residents and businesses who owe money for sewer service to pay up, and one option being considered is shutting off their water.

The city hired Indiana American Water to do its utility billing in 2011 so residents would receive only one bill for water, sewer and trash service.

Since the three bills were rolled into one, when residents didn’t pay, they were failing to pay for water, sewer and trash.

Under that arrangement, when bills weren’t paid the utility would turn off their water.

But in late 2012, Indiana American Water stopped offering utility billing services, and the company’s system for shutting off water to residents not paying their bills is no longer in place. That means the city no longer can penalize nonpaying residents in the same way.

The problem now is that without the power to shut off water service, the city struggles to force people to pay their sewer and trash bills, city attorney Krista Taggart said. And since sewer fees continue accumulating for a property if its water is turned on, even if a building isn’t being used, the city’s ability to turn off the water would benefit landowners, too, she said.

Currently, to enforce payment of sewer fees, the city sends warning letters and files liens. Liens are legal holds the city places against a property so the city can collect unpaid bills when the property sells.

But Indiana American Water was better at collecting on unpaid bills because shutting off water was more effective, she said.

Finance director Adam Stone asked the city board of works to consider paying Indiana American Water to shut off the water when a resident or business stops paying sewer bills. Indiana American Water would charge the city $65 to turn off water at a property.

The city doesn’t have a system for determining if it’s safe to turn off a property’s water or how many times a landowner should be warned in advance, which concerned the members of the city board of works.

The board members asked Stone at a recent meeting to come back with details on how many times residents would be notified that they’re at risk of having their water turned off.

The board needs to know who wouldn’t get the water turned off if it would be dangerous to their health, board of works president Kevin Hoover said.

He wants to look into what violations would have to happen before a sewer customer would lose water, and if exceptions would be given to people who were paying some of their bill, he said. He doesn’t expect the board of works to make a decision on the issue soon, he said.

Nursing homes and day care facilities that are operating wouldn’t get their water turned off, Taggart said. The city will be working with the Johnson County Board of Health to be sure it won’t be a health hazard to stop water service at a property, she said.

How long sewer fees haven’t been paid also will be considered, but the process for deciding if it’s safe to turn off water and for determining if it’s appropriate haven’t been set, she said.

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