From the Print

Village owed $200,000 in past-due bills

Village government is owed almost $200,000 in past-due utility bills and the finance director is looking for ways to capture that revenue.

“This situation has not consistently been addressed for a number of years and has resulted in an extraordinarily high amount of debt owed to the Village,” Finance Director Melissa Vanzant wrote in a report to Council for its Aug. 4 meeting, which Vanzant was not able to attend.

The enterprise funds — Village water, sewer and electricity — are intended to be self-supporting, according to Village Manager Patti Bates at the meeting. However, over the past eight years about $190,088 has accumulated from 593 delinquent utility accounts, and the Village loses about $22,000 annually in unpaid utility bills.

Council needs to act quickly to take advantage of a relatively simple way to collect a small portion of the money owed, Bates reported. If Council passes legislation on Aug. 18 and Sept. 2, it can meet the Greene County Auditor’s deadline to add assessments to the property taxes of the property owners who owe money. Council members agreed to task Bates with bringing the necessary legislation forward at Council’s next meeting.

However, about 75 percent of the money owed comes from renters rather than property owners, according to Vanzant, and collecting on those debts will be more difficult. In her report Vanzant, who also said the Village is being more aggressive in sending out reminders to those with past-due bills, asked that Council members consider other options for collecting, including referring names to a collection agency or credit rating agencies. Vanzant also offered to attend an upcoming Council meeting to address the issue further.

“This has been a concern for years,” Council President Karen Wintrow said. “We have to have a plan and get started.”

According to Vanzant’s report, there are a variety of reasons for the past-due accounts, including renters leaving town with a balance on their account, foreclosures, bankruptcies, abandoned homes and deaths.

Regarding strategies for collecting unpaid bills, Vanzant also suggested, besides property tax assessments, revising the Village utility regulations ordinance to require all utility customers to pay deposits rather than excluding homeowners, as has been the practice, and waiting to return utility deposits until customers close out their accounts rather than doing so after two years, the current practice.

In response to the topic, Taki Manolakos asked Council to include information on income assistance programs when sending out past due bills, which, according to Bates, is currently Village practice. Sue Abendroth asked Council to consider giving landlords more information about the status of renters’ outstanding utility bills so that the landlords address the problem with renters rather than being expected to pay their renters’ debts.
“It’s not fair to expect landlords to subsidize utilities for the renters,” she said.

In other Council business:

• Thor Sage, executive director of the Miami Valley Educational Computer Association, or MVECA, gave a presentation on ways the local nonprofit can work with Village government to enhance the Village’s technological capacity.

“There’s a strong desire in Yellow Springs to position the village to be a technology-enabled community,” Sage said.

Currently, MVECA works with public schools to provide managed wireless, Internet access, server hosting, software hosting, software support, remote backup, and a variety of other services. The nonprofit is also beginning to provide the same services to municipal governments, he said.

The nonprofit could benefit Yellow Springs in a variety of ways, including assisting the Village in providing more Internet carriers, developing a fiber optic infrastructure and the capacity for municipal WiFi, among other services. Sage also encouraged Council to develop a strategic plan for Village technology and expressed a desire to collaborate with Village government.

In response, Council members agreed to task the Community Access Panel with making recommendations to Council regarding how to move forward on expanding technological capabilities.

• Council unanimously approved a resolution that authorizes Bates to enter into a contract with Brooks Associates for the purchase of new streetlights to complete the streetscape changes begun downtown several years ago, when some but not all of the old lights were replaced. Village electric crew head Johnnie Burns became concerned that the longer the Village waits to complete the project, the greater the chance that lights that match those already installed won’t be available, according to Bates. Burns told Council that the new lights are more energy efficient and also focus the light closer to the ground.

• Council unanimously approved a resolution that authorizes Bates to apply for a grant to the NatureWorks program for new playground equipment.

• Council unanimously approved a resolution selecting Ted Donnell as architect to evaluate the roof structure of the Yellow Springs Public Library, with Council President Karen Wintrow, who is married to Donnell, recusing herself from the vote. Donnell has served as architect for several previous phases of the library renovation project.

• Council’s next regular meeting is Monday, Aug. 18, at 7 p.m. in Council chambers. Agenda items will include an update on the Home, Inc. Cemetery Street affordable housing project.

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