East Providence seeks out delinquent water-sewer users

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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.

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2 Comments

  1. Tony Ruben said:

    Maybe if the sewer rate wasn’t more than 3 times the water rate, more people could afford to pay their bills. Personally, I think some of these people are protesting the outrageous sewer rate. I applaud their action, and wish I had done the same thing. Change the sewer rate back to something reasonable, Mr. Lemont.
    And, as much as I hate to admit this, Pawtucket makes it easier to pay since they send out the bills on a monthly basis. It does help people budget for it.

  2. Lynn said:

    All of this information is public record. Anyone can go to city hall and request it.

    I agree with Tony to a certain point. There are definitely hardships out there but as Mr. Lemont stated, the city will work with them.

    I am taken aback with the statement that these have been over due for YEARS. Why? 2 million dollars ?? For those that pay their bills on time, have we been covering for all of these delinquent accounts for YEARS? How fair is that?

    So my next question would be, if there are years of overdue water/sewer, what is the property tax list looking like? How many of those are overdue for years and how much does that figure amount to?

    We had the budget commission in here for 1 1/2, why wasn;t this caught then?

    Lots of questions here.

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