By Sara Jerome
Unpaid water bills have turned into a costly problem for Santa Fe’s Public Utilities Department.
“Earlier this year, the city quietly acknowledged the steady drip, drip, drip of unpaid utility bills for more than a decade had turned into a nearly $2.7 million tsunami — forcing the utility to write off 11 years’ worth of customer debt that had been deemed uncollectable under the statute of limitations,” The Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
“Though the water utility once had a reserve of about $90 million, a big portion of which was used to pay off bonds, the write-off had a tangible impact. That’s $2.7 million that could have been used for a wide array of purposes, from investing in infrastructure to paying off bonds,” the report continued.
Caryn Fiorina, the city’s utility billing division director, said the origin of the problem goes back a ways.
“This $2.7 million, when I started there in May of 2016, I was just floored by the numbers,” she said. “Sixteen years of just nobody really doing anything about it.”
City officials attribute the debt to a city council decision 14 years ago to make tenants, instead of landlords, responsible for water bills, the Associated Press reported.
Documents “show more than 11,000 unpaid utility accounts, ranging from a penny to more than $34,000. The department's billing division says it's beefing up collection efforts,” the report said.
Beyond Santa Fe, unpaid utility bills are a strain on utilities across the country. Affordability plays an essential role in the issue. Researchers recently found that within five years, 35 percent of American households may be unable to afford their water bills, Michigan Radio reported.
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Image credit: "Mounting bills Project 365(2) Day 142," Keith Williamson © 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/