The D.C. Department of Environmental Services has begun a compaign to collect an estimated $9 to $11 million in overdue water and sewer bills, according to its director, Herbert L. Tucker.
Tucker said the majority of the unpaid bills for water and sewer services were from 1976, with some as far back as 1975.
The department is only now attempting to find out which of those accounts have not been paid because, Tucker said, until now, "all we concentrated on was getting the meter reading on schedule and getting the bills out on time." He added, "We weren't paying a lot of attention to prior water bills. . . and now I'm going back."
Tucker said he has set up a committee that began Monday tracking down the accounts which are in arrears. Tucker said he did not know how many customers' accounts were in arrears, but that he arrived at the $9 to $11 million estimate through "a quick run through the computer."
When he first took over as head of the environmental services department in May, 1976, the department was a year behind in billing customers, Tucker said. In an effort to try to get caught up with the billing, the department sent customers extended bills for 10, 11 to 12 months of service, instead of the normal six-month billing period. That plus a rate increase that went into effect July 1, 1976, caused many people to get "an extremely large bill," Tucker said.
However, the money the department is trying to collect now is for bills which were sent before the extended water and sewer bills and the rate increase, Tucker said.
A bill which is currently being considered by the city council's Committee on Transportation and Environmental Affairs would give the mayor the authority to require payment of a water bill within 30 days as is currently the case. However, it would also give the mayor the option to extend the payment time, or accept partial payments over time.
The bill would not allow a 10 per cent penalty to be levied or water service to be cut off while a challenged water bill is being reviewed. Water service also could not be terminated if the owner or occupant had changed or if notice had not been given and the opportunity for a hearing provided.
Among other things, the legislation also would require water bills to be sent out quarterly after Oct. 1, 1979, instead of every six months, and at least every other water bill sent would have to be based on an actual meter reading.
At a public hearing last week on the "Water and Sewer Service Billing Reform Act," committee chairman Jerry A. Moore Jr. said, "I am pushing for partial payments for a great number of people who have exorbitant water bills." Moore said he believed that many people with outstanding water and sewer bills would pay them if they weren't required to lay out all the money at once.
Tucker said his chief objection to[WORD ILLEGIBLE] council's proposed legislation was[WORD ILLEGIBLE] it come at a time when the department is about to go from a half[WORD ILLEGIBLE] half, automated billing system[WORD ILLEGIBLE] a completely automated system.[WORD ILLEGIBLE] the new system is installed and[WORD ILLEGIBLE] smoothly, changes can be[WORD ILLEGIBLE] to improved or modfy it, Tucker[WORD ILLEIGBLE].
If partial payments were required before the billing system was totally automated, he said, "in many in stances, it would triple our manual workload. Once we get automated. . . it's a simple thing" to institute a partial payment plan or make other changes, he said. Making changes in addition to total automation now is "only going to delay" complete automation, Tucker said.
Under the current timetable, water and sewer bills for people in all areas of the city would be processed under a fully automated system by October, 1979.
A temporary committee established to examine the District's financial management systems concluded that an automated billing system used by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission would be readily applicable for the District, according to Bruce Rohrbacher, a member of the Temporary Commission on Financial Over-sight for the District of Columbia.
Nathan Habib, president of the Washington Property Owners Association, told council members that his group "heartily endorses the aims and objectives" of the billing reform act. "Hearings should be available when the bill is $75 or more for a six-moth period for a single family home," Habib said. He also suggested that "where a bill is not rendered timely there should be a 10 per cent reduction in the same manner that a penalty is given."