CHAMPLIN (POPULATION 23,478)
The City of Champlin doesn’t shut off water service for delinquent utility bills. Instead, we certify any delinquent balances to our county for collection on the next year’s property taxes, consistent with Minnesota Statutes, section 444.075.
Prior to our certification process, which occurs annually in the fall, our city manages delinquent utilities from several different fronts.
To assist property owners on their delinquent balances, the City of Champlin will allow customers to make payment arrangements penalty-free for up to three months to catch up on their delinquent balance.
Because the services we provide are tied to the property and not the tenant, the city will provide a copy of the monthly invoices to landlords so they can better manage delinquent balances prior to our annual certification process.
Look to the county for assistance
In the past, utility bill assistance programs focused on electric and gas services, and there was little available to assist residents with their water and sewer bills. In the last few years, more robust utility bill assistance programs have provided some of our eligible residents with funding to reduce their delinquent balance. I would encourage cities to contact their county for assistance programs available to their residents.
Going from quarterly to monthly billing
Several years ago, we switched to monthly billing from quarterly. This change has provided our customers with a much more manageable and routine bill. We’ve found it has provided a better budget management tool for customers, and naturally encourages responsible usage of our water resource.
With quarterly billing, customers often don’t realize how much water they are consuming during the summer because that bill may not arrive until early winter. Monthly billing allows our customers a more current snapshot of their consumption. It has also provided much earlier leak detection, saving thousands of gallons and hundreds of dollars for our property owners.
STAPLES (POPULATION 2,998)
The most dreaded time of the month in the office is the day we cut electric service for delinquent utility accounts. At the City of Staples, we send out the initial delinquency notice a few days after the original due date, giving residents about three more weeks to either pay the outstanding bill in full or make an arrangement. Another reminder to pay delinquent bills is sent a week before it is scheduled for cut off. Contact information for agencies that can provide some energy assistance is also included with the notices.
The Cold Weather Rule
While some residents may have overlooked paying their bill, most are repeat customers who seem to be on the list every month. Minnesota’s Cold Weather Rule is a state law that protects residential utility customers from having electric or natural gas service shut off between Oct. 1 and April 30; once the Cold Weather Rule goes into effect, it is even harder to get those repeat offenders to pay any amount on their account.
In order for someone to be protected under the Cold Weather Rule, they must sign up for it and this is when we are able to get most delinquent accounts current again. As the winter restrictions are lifted, our utility customers who are no longer protected from disconnects are encouraged to get their accounts back into current status before the next round of disconnects.
The Cold Weather Rule is not the only challenge when it comes to collecting delinquent utility bills. In order for a customer to put a utility account in their name, we require a deposit that, on average, will cover two months of the utility charges. However, there are customers who will move and not pay the remaining account balance that exceeds the deposit. When no payments have been made for 90 days, we submit the balance due to the Minnesota Department of Revenue’s Revenue Recapture program. After this time, the debtor will have 45 days to request a hearing to contest it.
Claims submitted to the Revenue Recapture program will stay active for six years, in which time, the Minnesota Department of Revenue will garnish the debtor’s tax refund and forward these funds to the city to satisfy any outstanding debts. This program is most often used by electrical utilities because it requires the customer’s social security number, which most water/sewer utilities do not collect.