Antrim to get tough on delinquent sewer accounts

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

A hit list has been developed by the Antrim Township Board of Supervisors. The target is the offenders who have amassed the highest delinquent sewer bills.

At a worksession Jan. 28, the board tackled an ongoing and frustrating problem, customers chronically not paying their sewer bills. Acknowledging that people had various reasons for falling behind, Antrim administrator Brad Graham said the township was always willing to set up payment plans.

But for those who didn't respond to overdue notices, there was little empathy from chairman Fred Young III, John Alleman, Rick Baer and Pat Heraty. James Byers wanted staff to make a concerted effort to get the people to the office to discuss the issue before drastic measures were taken.

Records indicated that at least 45 customers were 120 days behind and owed $1,000 or more. A standard residential quarterly bill was $115.50.

 The board analyzed the current collection policy and pondered ways to strengthen it. They chose to send a letter 15 days after a customer missed the pay period, which was a month after the bill was mailed. At 30 days delinquent, they wanted the billing clerk to make phone calls until she reached a live person on each account. At 120 days a notice would be posted at the property, maybe using the services of a constable, stating that the matter was being turned over to the district justice office. In the past, Antrim filed liens at Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, but hadn't worked with the magisterial district judge since 2008, when the board fired six township employees. In the reorganization that followed, Graham said the local court service had been overlooked.

Alleman pushed for filing with the local judge rather than using a collection agency, since it had been successful years ago. The liens would still be in effect, but would be marked satisfied if people paid after hearing from the magistrate.

He was ready to start the new tactic right away.

"I want a hit list that starts tomorrow," he said. "Send the people a strong letter. Forget the past."

Heraty added, "This is the line in the sand."

Solicitor John Lisko said if customers still failed to make payments, the township could sell their personal property. Township secretary Jennifer Becknell was curious. "You mean you can take their refrigerator and stove?"

Lisko replied that legally, it could be done.

Resident and former Antrim Township Municipal Authority member Bob Coladonato witnessed the discussion. He had broached the subject the previous night at the ATMA meeting, and offered a solution used by municipalities in Pennsylvania and other states. Devices were available to attach to sewer lines, which allowed for shutoff for non-payment of bills. He also gave the information to the supervisors, suggesting the units be required on new construction for customers not on public water.

Public works director Carl Rundquist had explored the idea, and seen it in use in other places. However, he said, often the homeowner would skirt the block or it would break, then leak sewage into the yard. At that point, DEP would step in and require the municipality to restore sewer service in the interest of public health. Plus, in Antrim the homeowner owned the sewer line from the street in, so it was a touchy matter.

Baer saw it another way. "Once you block the line, the house is condemned. They need to move out."

Coladonato liked the idea the supervisors adopted, to seriously go after the worst offenders before trying to shut off their service.

"You have taken a positive step to try to get this resolved," he said.

In September 2012, Antrim delinquencies totaled over $163,000. That was up $4,000 from the beginning of the year.