EAST PROVIDENCE — Property owners be on alert, if you’re in arrears on your water bill the City of East Providence is aggressively seeking the money you owe.
Starting last week, the city’s Treasury Division, under the auspices of Finance Director Malcolm Moore, began sending out approximately 900 notices to those residential and business property owners who were significantly behind in their overdue water payments.
Acting City Manager Paul Lemont authorized the effort to collect some $2 million in past-due bills.
“We sent out the letters and ever since the phones have been ringing off the walls here at City Hall,” Mr. Lemont said. “We’ve come to an agreement with others and we’re working out payment plans with the rest. And we’ve already collected a goodly amount.”
Those who haven’t paid what they owe for the last several years received a letter demanding payment be made or face the consequences, which range from shut-off of service to a tax sale of their property to recover the fees.
The letters are aimed specifically towards those habitually delinquent in their payments, for instance a number of businesses whose bills have grown into the high five-figure range due to years of payment neglect or residents whose bills have reached a $1,000 or more.
“After reviewing the city’s overall finances, I felt it was absolutely incumbent upon me to have us go out and collect as much money as we possibly can,” Mr. Lemont explained.
Mr. Lemont admitted there are likely those in the system, the indigent or long-term unemployed as examples, who won’t be able to make good on their debt regardless of the city’s attempts to collect.
“We know there are some people who simply won’t have the means to pay. I guess we’re going to have to right that off as the price of doing business,” the manager said.
Mr. Lemont declined to name some of the worst offenders, saying he wasn’t trying to “shame” anyone. He did say, however, the act of actually shutting off water service to those who refuse to comply with the effort remained a distinct possibility.
“We don’t want to shut anyone off. You don’t want to shut off the family with three kids or the elderly woman living on the third floor,” Mr. Lemont said. “But if you owe a $1,000 and you’ve agreed to pay $500 then pay on a weekly or monthly basis and don’t follow through, we will do it. We don’t want to do that, but we will.”
In the end, the manager said he urges residents and property owners to understand they must pay into the system for it to work and be maintained properly.
“The message is, like your electric bill and your gas bill and your other bills, you’ve got to make paying your water and sewer bill a priority,” Mr. Lemont added.