City discusses curbing bad utility debt

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

The Huntingburg Common Council discussed Tuesday ways to curb bad utility debt.

Last May, the council approved writing off $16,242.02 in bad debt accumulated for 2017. For 2016, the amount was $23,832.78. The total was $22,987.23 for 2015; $14,292.26 for 2014; and $13,345.13 for 2013.

Councilman Tim Wehr, who has been looking into the matter, proposed a program to give customers another method to pay their bills.

His suggestion was using a company like Points & Pay, which establishes an online method for paying bills using a credit or debit card. The company would also provide City Hall with two card readers that customers can use to pay the bills.

“I want to make it easier for them,” Wehr said.

Clerk-Treasurer Tom Dippel said the city has an online method that people can use to pay their bill using a card, to the surprise of all the council members. They said that option needs to be promoted more to the public. Dippel said information about it is available at the utility office, and there should be a link to it through the utility department’s website. The link will be made more obvious once the city’s website is redesigned, he said.

Council members also discussed the deposit that people pay when they establish service. That deposit is returned after 24 months, so long as the person is not delinquent on paying their utility bill. Wehr noted that Jasper Utilities holds on to the deposit at rental units until the account is closed, and suggested that Huntingburg do the same.

The majority of the accounts that are eventually written off as bad debt at the end of the year come from rental units, Councilman Jeff Bounds said. “Maybe not returning that deposit would help,” he said. “Maybe that deposit should be increased.”

City Attorney Phil Schneider said he would have to research the legalities for holding a deposit or charging a different deposit amount for rental units. He added that some rental tenants rack up utility bills for the same rental unit in different names. Wehr said the council should consider making it a stipulation that the person who gets utility service be listed as a tenant on the rental contract.

Mayor Denny Spinner said that in the coming year, the city and utility departments will discuss what needs to be revised in their ordinances. Any ordinance revisions will come to the council for approval.




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