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Paynesville Press - April 6, 2005

City modifies utility shut-off notice process

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

The city of Paynesville has changed its notification process before shutting off utilities for non-payment. These changes went into effect with the quarterly utility bills city residents should have received this week.

The new notification policy will shorten the time between bills being due and when the city can shut off water for non-payment. In addition, the Paynesville Police will no longer hand-deliver final shut-off notices.

Residential water and sanitary sewer bill will still be due in 30 days. The first late notice will be sent on the next business day after the bill is due, giving a time and date of shut off (about 20 days later) if payment isnıt made. The second notice will serve as a reminder before water is actually shut off. The police will no longer hand-deliver notices, and the whole process would take about 20 days from the billıs due date.

The city mailed quarterly utility bills to residents on Friday, April 1. Payments for these bills are due on Wednesday, May 4. On Friday, May 5, the city should send first notices to property owners who have not paid their utility bills. The notices should set a final shut-off date around Thursday, May 26. Residents who receive first notices and who still donıt pay their utility bills should receive a second reminder around Monday, May 16. The city could then turn off water service for non-payment any time after Thursday, May 26, if the property owner still has not paid.

Previously, the city sent first past due notices within a few days of the due date, according to city employee Gayla Orbeck. If the bill wasnıt paid by the due date, another notice was sent to the property owner. If the bill still wasnıt paid within 15 days of the second notice, the Paynesville Police Department hand delivered a shut-off notice, and out-of-town property owners were sent a shut-off notice via certified mail.

The whole process took about 65 days from the due date, said Orbeck, and many times overlapped with the next quarterly billing cycle.

The city changed the process after police chief Kent Kortlever requested that the city begin charging a paper-serving fee for notices his department had to deliver because it took officers away from their other duties.

Instead of charging a paper-serving fee, the city opted to change the way shut-off notices are delivered. Since most residents paid their water and sewer bills before water was shut-off, city officials believed the old notification process was too extensive and unnecessary.

Under the old late-notice system, the city sent an average of 100 first notices for each billing cycle, said Orbeck. Then, about 50 second notices were sent, and the police delivered 10-12 shut-off notices each quarter. According to Orbeck, the city has only shut off water service for non-payment a few times in the past 10 years.

The new process should save time and money, with city employees not spending as much time creating, sending, or delivering notices, and police officers will be more readily available if they arenıt delivering notices.

According to Orbeck, the average utility bill for a family of four is $84 per quarter. If the city shuts off water for non-payment, the fee for re-starting service is $70, plus the past-due amount.

Anyone who canıt pay their utility bills before the due date should call city hall to make payment arrangements, Orbeck urged.

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