Overdue sewer bills in McKeesport down to 4 percent
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When the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport began collecting sewer bills last year, the delinquency rate was nearly 27 percent.
Joe Rost, executive director for the authority, has been able to whittle that down to 4 percent.
"When we began collecting bills in March 2009, there were 8,000 accounts [and] more than $1 million delinquent," he said.
It was a huge problem for the city, he said, which previously collected the bills. But last year, the city sold them for 50 cents on the dollar, according to Dennis Pittman, city administrator.
"We were not as good as collecting on delinquent accounts as they are," he said.
Collecting on those accounts hasn't been easy for Mr. Rost either, he said.
Thousands of shutoff notices for water service have been sent since Mr. Rost took over the delinquent bills, which have ranged from $30 to hundreds of dollars.
In some cases, the overdue bills had been sent to new homeowners who hadn't used the service but were still responsible for the bill.
"It's a lien that an attorney should've discussed with the new owners at the time of closing," Mr. Rost explained.
Complaints were heard at council meetings earlier this year; both Mr. Rost and McKeesport Mayor Jim Brewster assured residents that the authority would be willing to work with them.
"If customers call before the service is shut off, we can put them on a payment plan," Mr. Rost said.
In some cases, the delinquencies cannot be collected because the property has been razed or is no longer inhabitable and has been abandoned, he said.
Unpaid bills cause rates to increase, which affects customers who pay bills regularly and on time. It can be a significant problem in McKeesport, which has a large elderly population on fixed incomes, he said.
In 2006, rates were $2.80 per 1,000 gallons of water used, according to municipal records. They increased to $3.16 per 1,000 gallons in 2007, $3.70 in 2008, $4.44 in 2009 and $5.30 this year.
Rates also have increased to pay for a $60 million expansion of the authority's new pump station, a plan mandated by state Act 537, which requires municipal authorities to prevent water from flowing into rivers during storms, he said.
The authority received a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection at the end of July, and the expansion project will go out for bid later this year with work set to begin next spring, he said.
The authority serves about 62,000 customers throughout McKeesport, East McKeesport, Elizabeth Township, Glassport, Liberty, North Versailles, Port Vue, Versailles and White Oak.
First Published August 5, 2010 6:04 am