Campbell administrators want to tackle $90,000 in delinquent water bills
By Graig Graziosi
Campbell administrators are considering tougher deadlines for water customers to pay past-due bills.
The city’s water department has nearly $90,000 in delinquent water bills, and council President George Levendis is looking for a solution to the growing problem.
“I think our collection rate is too slow,” Levendis said. “We’re looking at 45 to 60 days before people’s water is getting shut off when they don’t pay. We need to get it down to something reasonable, like two to three weeks.”
Under the city’s current structure, the water department sends delinquency notices between the 12th and the 15th of the month to customers with more than $50 unpaid on their bills. From that point, they have two weeks to pay their bill before the city notifies the customer that their water service will be terminated.
Though the city’s water department legally could terminate a customer’s service the day after the two-week window closes, the city’s current protocol is to carry out most of the service terminations over a day or several consecutive days during the month. This means that a customer may continue to receive water despite being more than two weeks delinquent on payments.
Campbell’s city administrator, Lew Jackson, said the consolidation of shutoffs is a logistical necessity.
“In order to actually carry out shutoffs, we need at least decent weather – it would have been impossible to shut anything off last week, for example – and we need backhoes and at least two backhoe drivers since many of those shutoff valves are buried,” Jackson said. “Some people know their water valves are difficult for us to reach and take advantage of that fact.”
Both Levendis and Jackson said much of the $90,000 involves customers who are chronically late and landlords who likely have delinquent renters.
“These are the same people we’re dealing with month after month. They’re getting too much leeway,” Levendis said. “And some of these landlords need to start doing their homework and renting to more reliable people.”
While Levendis has little sympathy for repeat offenders, both he and Jackson emphasized that any resident in financial need can work out an agreement with the city to avoid having their water turned off.
Though Jackson said the city has been working to find cost-effective ways to shorten the amount of time between shutoff notifications and the actual termination of service, a two-week waiting period is mandated by a city ordinance.
In Campbell city ordinance 921.05, section C, it states: “If the grounds for termination is nonpayment, the City shall serve upon the customer no sooner than 14 days after nonpayment as defined in Section 921.04(a) and (e), a written notice of its intent to terminate the water service supplied to the customer.”
Even if the city were able to pursue shutoffs more aggressively, however, Jackson warns against looking at the $90,000 as a solution to the city’s financial woes.
“Let’s say we collected that money overnight. We’d still only be taking in about half of it,” Jackson said. “Those bills also include trash collection and sewer collection that we pay to the county. For every dollar we collect, we pay a percentage back out for those services.”
Though collecting the money wouldn’t solve all of the city’s problems, Levendis still wants to see something done to cut down on the late bills.
“We need to start running the water plant more like a business,” Levendis said. “Your water bill shouldn’t be the last bill you pay.”