Wright City approves $26,000 in old utility bill write-offs

By: 
Adam Rollins
Staff Writer

Wright City Aldermen voted July 9 to write-off $26,000 in old, uncollectible utility bills, some of which date back to 2007.

The old bills were an issue of contention for two new Wright City aldermen elected in June, who questioned why tens-of-thousands in bills and late fees had gone uncollected for so long, and whether it was right to dismiss such accounts.

Ward 1 Alderman Michelle Heiliger and Ward 2 Alderman Ramiz Hakim last month asked for a complete accounting of bills and late fees that needed to be written off, and verification that all steps had been taken to collect on those accounts before labeling them “uncollectible.”

Hakim also expressed concern over whether people who leave Wright City without paying their bills were essentially getting a free pass. City leaders have since taken considerable time to review the issue, he said on July 9.

“Aldermen and city staff have worked diligently to try to make this fair and equitable for all the citizens in our community, not to reward those who have left our community and stuck taxpayers with the bill,” Hakim said. He said further review by city staff showed that every effort to collect on the accounts had indeed been exhausted.

The total amount of the write-offs grew since June, when aldermen were asked to consider $18,000 in uncollectible bills. At Heiliger’s request, city staff did a complete review of every account in their billing system, coming back with a total of $26,135 in bad debt, said City Clerk Abbie Ogborn.

Hakim said aldermen also plan to work with landlords to waive the late fees on any old bills from tenants that landlords weren’t previously notified of.

Two such landlords approached aldermen in June and July to complain of receiving unpaid bills for tenants who moved out years ago. One of the bills was for more than $300.

It was a “very bad mishandling,” as one landlord put it.

“We’re just as frustrated as you are,” Heiliger said. “At this point, what we are responsible for doing is being fiscally responsible for the city.”

Aldermen came to an agreement with both landlords to waive their late fees and part of principle amount of the bills.

City Administrator Jim Schuchmann has also reassured aldermen that new practices have been put in place to prevent future bills from going uncollected or growing out of hand before services are shut off.

Hakim proposed the board go a step further, empowering city staff to enter into payment agreements or take other actions which are currently reserved for aldermen. That way, citizens can get quicker, clearer answers about what they need to do to get their bills paid.

Schuchmann said staff will draft a policy to match that objective and present it to the board at a future meeting.

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