The town of Tellico Plains is losing more than $10,000 each year in unpaid water debts, and it’s getting worse, said Utilities Manager Robert Patty.

Patty addressed the City Council during their meeting on Thursday night about creating a deposit fee policy for new water customers, in addition to the possibility of entering into a partnership with Online Utilities Exchange to collect unpaid debts.

“We’ve run into a situation,” said Patty. “People keep coming in and getting a water tap and then not paying for their water. The town is having to absorb a considerable amount of money. This has been going on around 25 years. The debt is unreal of what we’ve lost. It’s in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Patty said he was given a recommendation for the town to adopt a policy for deposits.

“We would enter into a contract with these folks, and they would provide the service,” he said. “They would do background checks on customers and based on what we get back, that would determine the deposit they would have to pay. Not everyone will have to pay a deposit — if they have good credit, or are in good standing — but everyone who falls short would have to pay a deposit.”

May collect unpaid debts

Patty explained that for a fee, the company would also attempt to collect unpaid debts.

“We can go back seven years, and they will go after people who owe us,” he said. “It’s a 35 percent fee. If they don’t collect the debt, we don’t pay. If they collect, we pay them 35 percent of the paid debt.”

“Better than not getting anything,” noted Mayor Patrick Hawkins.

Patty said the contract with Online Utilities Exchange would cost $30 per month.

“How many do we have that don’t pay now?” asked Alderwoman Marilyn Parker. “How bad is it?”

“We take about a $13,000 loss a year,” said Patty, noting that it seems to be getting worse.

“We’ve been very lenient trying to work with people, especially during hardships,” said Hawkins. “As long as they’re making a good-faith effort to make some payments, then we try to work with them. The state doesn’t necessarily like that at all. Auditors have to account for it in their report. The Comptroller’s Office doesn’t like it at all. They feel like we need to be more aggressive.”

“I know there are a lot of people that really do try, and they get knocked down, but then there are those out there who just don’t give a boo boo,” added Parker.

Hawkins said he felt like it would be a good thing to consider, and most City Council members agreed.

“It’s not really a cost; it’s a benefit,” said Parker.

The board tabled a vote, however, until March to give the City Council members time to look over the policy in depth.

While he had the floor, Patty also told the City Council about a program, at a cost of $193 a month, that would help generate work orders for the Water Department.

“We wouldn’t be relying on notecards and sticky notes,” he said. “It gives more documentation.”

Hawkins said the only concern with that right now would be a line item in the budget.

“We would have to make a budget amendment,” he said. “But that would fall under Water and General Fund services. The Water Department would be responsible for half, and the General Fund would be responsible for the other half. Would be split on the cost.”

The board tabled further discussion until a later meeting.

Also at the meeting:

  • In a brief Beer Board meeting prior to the start of the City Council meeting, the board approved a beer permit for Iron Work Grill along the river. A beer permit was currently held by the site’s previous restaurant/owners.
  • The City Council approved a request from the Police Department to surplus and sell two speed signs on GovDeals. It will be a three-week auction.
  • Two requests from Jim Debernardi were tabled for a later date because he was unable to attend Thursday’s meeting.
  • The owner of the Cherohala Market spoke briefly to the City Council about wanting to purchase the alleyway behind his store, but Hawkins told him he would have to purchase the nearby machine shop in order to approach the board about buying the alley.
  • The City Council voted to allow restaurants to brew specialty beers and alcoholic beverages within the city limits. See related story inside this edition.
  • The board also made a decision on how to spend a $25,000 Monroe County Economic Community Development Grant, and introduced Brandi Saucier, who discussed her new land use. See related story inside this edition.

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