Bay Council eyes delinquent accounts
By Cassandra Favre
Oct 12, 2013, 00:07
While the city is behind on its own bills, Bay St. Louis city councilmen on Tuesday questioned Mayor Les Fillingame about the number of people behind on their city utility accounts – including, apparently, several city employees.
"Evidently, there was some comment made about city employees that had balances, and I can assure you we treat a city employee the same way we treat everybody else, probably a little stronger," Mayor Les Fillingame said.
Ward Six Councilman Lonnie Falgout and Ward Five Councilman Joey Boudin both said they had received complaints on the issue.
"I got several calls on it ," Boudin said. "They are alleging that we're financing or making arrangements with certain people to give them special treatment.
"We have an ordinance in place. The ordinance says you will be cut off."
"There's all kinds of things that could come into play," Fillingame said. "You just can't throw those things out there without a context provided also. Otherwise you're affecting the lives of innocent people."
Lana Noonan of the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government investigated the rumors.
"I went up to city hall and asked employee Katie Fillingame for a list of delinquent utility bills," Noonan said. "She told me to talk to city clerk David Kolf, who was out of the office, so I got his e-mail address.
"He e-mailed me a public records request form and, since I was requesting a pdf file, said that I could just sign it online."
A majority of the bills are more than four months behind.
"One prompt for me to look into this," Noonan said, "was that the council just voted for a utility increase.
"If they're not paying now, how are they going to pay when the rates increase?"
Noonan said the delinquent amounts add up to $265,955 and the utility list was posted online on Sept. 26.
"It's no different than not paying taxes," Noonan said. "They advertise delinquent taxes in the newspaper all the time. When you don't pay back taxes you can lose your property, nobody can take back the water and sewage you used.
"There has to be some attempt by city officials to recoup these funds," Noonan said. "For seven city workers to be on this list doesn't look good.
"This is public information, we believe in transparency in government. If someone goes and pay their bills because of this then, hey it works."
"I was sent an e-mail by Ms. Noonan," city clerk David Kolf said. "I was told this information was going to be used to compare to someone else's delinquent accounts.
"We have a few issues that go back to Katrina, or people just leave and some pass away. Few people have large balances and in accordance with the ordinance, we have a payment agreement in place.
"Auditors look at city and elected officials utility accounts first," Kolf said. "Employees that do run behind, we take it off their through a payroll deduction to make their payments."
On Aug. 6, 2012, councilmen approved the utility revision ordinance, which says
"There shall be no free service and each customer of the utilities system shall pay for the use of the system.
"Any bill not paid by the due date shall be considered delinquent and service discontinued.
"It is the policy of the city to work with customers to attempt an agreeable payment schedule for the delinquent accounts to avoid service disruption. In the event the customer is unwilling or unable to make payment to the satisfaction of the city, service will be terminated."
Steps to termination include:
Payment must be received by the city no later than the 12th day after billing. The account is termed to be "delinquent" as of the 13th day after the billing.
A late fee is assessed after the delinquent date.
For delinquencies exceeding 30 days, late notices are delivered to the customers by door hanger or mail on or about the 18th day of the month. The service termination date is five days after the late notice is given.
The city reserves the right to discontinue service on any account in the event such customer fails to pay any obligations owed to the city.