The Toccoa City Commission approves changes to the city’s utility delinquency policy.
During Monday’s meeting, commissioners voted on changes to the policy.
The initial policy presented Monday for a vote would have given a customer only 15 days to pay from the billing date before being late and 30 days to pay before the account was considered delinquent.
During previous discussions on the issue, commissioners had asked that customers still be given 20 days from the billing date to pay before being late, as has been the case.
Commissioner Gail Fry said she feels allowing that 20-day period is important.
Fry referenced her own bill, which came on the 8th and was received on a Saturday.
“If I get paid every two weeks and I got paid the day before, what if my budget was already taken care of?” she asked. “The next time I get paid is two weeks. That would put it on the 23rd. If we cut it back 5 days, I would not even have time to get to the bank that day, put my check in the bank, and make my deposit without my bill being late. I just think people need more than 15 days to pay it.”
That change back to 20 days was made during the meeting by the commission.
As a result, under the approved new policy, a customer still has 20 days from the billing date to pay without being charged a late fee, but an account will now become delinquent and could be disconnected if not paid by the 30th day past the billing date rather than the 35th day as has been the case previously.
The new policy also increases the amount of deposit that would be required of a new customer. For example, the changes increase the residential water deposit from $50 to $75 and the residential gas deposit from $100 to $150.
Toccoa City Manager Mike Jackson said that the policy changes are designed to help curb the effects of delinquent utility accounts. According to Jackson, increasing the deposit gives the city more money from the customer up front should they become delinquent to apply to the account, while shortening the time before an account becomes delinquent limits the amount of time a delinquent customer can continue to use city utilities before they are cut off.
Other late and delinquent fees remain unchanged under the new policy. If a customer pays after 20 days, a 10 percent late fee is charged for water, wastewater, and solid waste, along with a 1 percent late fee for natural gas. A delinquent customer is charged an additional $25 fee per utility and if a delinquent customer is cut off and requests re-connection after business hours, they are charged $50 per utility.
Toccoa Vice-Mayor Andy Pavliscsak said he feels some of those fees are excessive.
“We get people who pay a late charge, then they pay a delinquent charge, then they have to pay to have their utility restored,” said Pavliscsak. “It seems like we are fee-based as opposed to customer service based. I understand it has been in place. I do not like it.”
However, Toccoa Mayor David Austin says people have a responsibility to pay.
“They have other utilities, Georgia Power, telephone, cable, satellite dish,” said Austin. “People can always pay their cable and satellite dish it seems.”
City officials noted that people who are having trouble paying their bill can contact the city’s customer service department to work out a payment arrangement.
The policy changes passed by a 4 to 1 vote, with Pavliscsak voting ‘no.’