Late fee for water bills may be raised

22 percent of users are late in paying, town manager says

January 10, 2000|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Almost a quarter of all Hampstead households are paying their water bills late, and are getting away with just a couple of dollars in late fees.

That could change if the Hampstead Town Council passes an ordinance tomorrow night that would increase the late fee to 10 percent of the bill, or $20, whichever is larger.

The council will meet for a public hearing on the ordinance at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall, 1034 Carroll St. The regular council meeting will begin at 7: 30 p.m.

The late fee for water bills is now 10 percent of the bill. The median water bill is $28 a quarter for about 1,800 accounts -- residential and business. About 22 percent of those customers don't pay the first time they get a bill, said Kenneth Decker, town manager.

The approximately $2.80 those late-paying customers are charged doesn't begin to cover the cost of having a town employee process another bill, and in some cases follow up and visit the home if a turn-off notice is sent.

Most of the time, the bills are paid, but often at the last minute, Decker said. Some people have financial difficulties, but they often come in and make arrangements for payment. Others, including absentee landlords, are just letting the bill slide as long as they can, he said.

"The people who are paying on time are subsidizing those who do not," Decker said.

Decker said that some cases require a review to spot an error or other problem. But having to wade through a stack of 400 late bills every quarter makes it harder to deal with needy cases.

The minimum $20 fee would ensure that the town can recoup the cost of processing the two or three additional mailings and notices.

Decker said he is sure that someone will object to a $20 late fee on a what might be a $28 bill.

"Whether it's a large bill or a small bill, the additional cost to process a late bill is the same," Decker said.

Decker said a check with other Carroll municipalities found Hampstead had the second-largest percentage of late payers. Westminster had the most, with 25 percent. Manchester had the least, with 10 percent.

In other business, the council will discuss seeking a loan of about $750,000 to build a new water tower at North Carroll Shopping Center, and proposing a moratorium on development of a North Carroll business park. Council members have said they don't want to allow development at the park until the state completes an environmental study on the nearby bog turtle population.

Bog turtles are a federally protected endangered species. Their presence along the east side of Hampstead also has complicated construction of a Route 30 bypass.

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