The city plans to get tougher in its effort to collect more than $7.3 million it’s owed for water services, officials said.

The bulk of the outstanding money, about $6.4 million, is owed by former customers, while active customers owe only about $1 million, city spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

The amount doesn’t include bills that have gone unpaid for less than 30 days, Barnett said.

The city hopes to partner with a law firm to track down old customers and collect payment, Finance Director Mike Loftin said.

“If it’s a prior customer, we don’t have cutoff as an incentive, plus we don’t know where they are,” Loftin said.

The city doesn’t hold property owners accountable for the water bills of their renters, Loftin said.

Only about 3,600 of the 21,400 currently active water accounts, 16.8 percent, have outstanding payments, Loftin said.

But 16,000 inactive accounts owe money, which presents a problem to the city, Loftin said.

This problem isn’t anything new, but city officials want to come up with a strategy to solve it, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.

“This is not uncommon for us,” Maxwell said. “We have a lot of people who just up and leave. One of the solutions is raising the deposit, but when you raise the deposit it becomes quite burdensome for people.”

People abandoning their water accounts could be a result of rising rent prices, Richard Denson, president of the Galveston County Apartment Association, said.

“I know a lot of people raise rents really quick and they have to,” Denson said.

Rents might rise to account for higher property taxes or insurance fees, but if a tenant moves because they can’t afford the rent, they likely can’t afford their water or electric bill either, Denson said.

“They turn around and leave and go to a different state,” Denson said.

For active customers, the city aims to ramp up its enforcement efforts with a more aggressive cut-off policy and payment plan options, city officials said.

Reviewing these owed accounts is part of a city effort to review its assets and property, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

“Receivables are an asset to the city,” Yarbrough said. “We ought to have an annual clean up, not wait 25 years and do $6 million at a time.”

The Galveston City Council will need to approve any new plans or policies, a subject that will likely be discussed this spring, city officials said.

Keri Heath: 409-683-5241; or on Twitter @HeathKeri.

(4) comments

Paula Flinn

So you want to raise the water/sewer rates for those of us who pay our bills, to compensate for those who owe over $7 million to the City of Galveston.
That, clearly, is not fair.
Collect some of that “overdue” money first.

Rusty Schroeder

Collecting from active accounts should be easy, people have to have water for everyday life. But that is only a $ Million. Finding the people that owe the $6 Million will be the challenge, then getting them to actually pay will be the war. What can you threaten them with except for a hit on their credit report ?

Jarvis Buckley

The city is right to make all the past due & unpaid bills public. The GDN should publish all the delinquent bills.
I tend to agree with Paula responsible
hard working taxpaying, utility paying
residents of Galveston shouldn't have
to bare the burden of the folks that skipped out on paying their bills. For what ever reason. Not meeting your obligations is not a responsible way to live your life. Pay your bills like the rest of us. Not interested in your , sad
story. If a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his butt every time he jumped.
Pay your bills. Just like the rest of us.

Victor Krc

Tony Soprano didn't have a problem collecting. Is he still available? [cool]

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