Back Antrim sewer bills might get stinking high

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot

People who have been “gaming the system” will find it much more expensive, if Antrim Township pursues hiring a law firm to handle its debt collections.

Kevin Buraks, an attorney with Portnoff Law Associates, Norristown, explained the firm’s services to the board of supervisors on June 10. Its specialty was collecting on delinquent accounts for municipalities, authorities and school districts. Portnoff had over 90 clients wanting remuneration for real estate taxes; water, sewer and trash fees; even fire marshal, streetlight and abatement of nuisance charges.

Pat Heraty, Fred Young III, John Alleman and James Byers were anxious to hear what Buraks had to say. Rick Baer was absent.

Antrim sewer customers owed over $143,500, and the board had been cracking down on getting the money, including filing cases with the magisterial district justice, and putting liens on properties.

“Apparently what we are doing is not working,” said Young.

Buraks said the deliberate gamers would take notice when his law firm became involved.

“Property owners will see there is a price to pay for not doing anything,” he said.

Portnoff had a seven step procedure to collect unpaid bills, and its work was meant to free up township staff time for other duties.

If a delinquent customer paid up or made payment arrangements after the initial notice of delinquency, there would be no legal fees assessed. But for the next six steps, which ended with a sheriff sale of the property, the legal fees were tacked on to the original bill, as well as all penalties and expenses encountered along the way. Attorney fees alone would be over $1,500.

Portnoff would charge Antrim $40 up front for each file turned over for collection, but that would be passed along to the customer.

“At the end of the day, the township doesn’t pay anything,” said Buraks.

The township has the right to turn over its pursuit of due money through the Municipal Claims and Tax Liens Act, which provides for the procedure the law firm must follow. At all times, Antrim remained in control of the process, Buraks stressed.

He promised his staff treated the customers with courtesy, and worked with those who applied for hardship status.

“We’ve showed a lot of grace,” Byers said. “I like the hardship program because some are struggling and we don’t want to be heavy handed. The key to grace is if they communicate with us.”

Antrim solicitor John Lisko informed the board that Antrim could proceed with unhooking service for delinquent customers, as allowed by a recently passed ordinance, and Portnoff could work from its end.

The board will review the materials and contract. If it hires Portnoff, it will also have to enact an ordinance imposing the fee schedule and cost of collection.

In other business, Antrim administrator Brad Graham reported that one developer asked to use a different review engineer than the one hired by Antrim. The developer found issues with mileage costs, charges considered excessive, and difficulty working with the company.

Graham defended the engineer, which represented the best interests of the township.

“We’ve found them to be nothing but great to work with. They facilitate what our needs are.”

The supervisors agreed to stick with the current engineer.