By Ivan Raconteur
A deluge of delinquent water bills that has left the city staff drowning in extra work has prompted the Lester Prairie City Council to look for new ways to handle unpaid bills.
During last Monday’s meeting, in a continuation of a discussion that was tabled during the July 7 council meeting, City Clerk Marilyn Pawelk told the council that there were 189 delinquent water bills in the city last month.
There are only 680 primary water accounts in Lester Prairie (some residents have second meters for lawn watering). This means that nearly 28 percent of the city’s water bills were late last month.
Pawelk said as of July 23, three days after the bills were due, about $10,000 in water bills remained unpaid.
The number of delinquent bills has increased significantly in recent months, and has increased dramatically since the city’s recent change from quarterly to monthly billing.
She said the city had hoped the change would make the process easier for residents, since the regular monthly billing would make it easier for residents to budget, and would result in each bill being smaller (compared to the quarterly bills, which, for some residents, amounted to several hundred dollars).
Pawelk said that when the city was doing quarterly billing, the average number of delinquent accounts was about 23.
“We have tried to be nice. We have tried to let people make arrangements to pay, and it’s not working,” Pawelk told the council.
“I’d like to see a $150 disconnect fee and a $50 reconnect fee. I don’t think Marilyn and Darla (Deputy City Clerk Darla Simon) should have to spend all this time tracking them down,” Council Member Larry Hoof said.
In addition to the time it takes the office staff to contact all the delinquent accounts, the council discussed the time it would take to shut off water service for accounts that do not pay on time.
Mayor Andy Heimerl asked Pawelk if she thought Hoof’s suggestion would work.
“Not very well. If they are not paying their bill when it is $89, and you add on charges, they still aren’t going to pay,” Pawelk said.
“We’ve got to do something,” Hoof commented.
Resident Stan Ehrke asked if there would be less delinquencies if the city allowed residents to use credit cards to pay their bills.
Pawelk said that has been discussed, but it would cost the city 3 percent of each transaction to process credit cards.
“We could charge them 3 percent to use credit cards,” Council Member Art Mallak suggested.
The council decided to charge a $30 late fee for bills that are not paid by the due date, and directed Pawelk to research the option of allowing residents to use credit cards to pay their bills.
The council also discussed shutting off water service on accounts when bills are two months late.