The City of Winchester is clamping down on delinquent utility bills.
The city has been reviewing budget billing practices over the last month after it was revealed at the January business meeting that several people weren’t keeping up with payments.
The city installed a 3% extra charge last year to help residents catch up from historically high natural gas bills during the month of February after a polar vortex shut down half the nation’s natural gas infrastructure causing record-high prices.
Last night at the Winchester city council meeting, Mayor Rex McIntire says there are approximately 97 delinquent accounts in the city, which accounts for about 12-and-a-half-percent of the city’s total customers.
He says the city has been lenient to help people get caught up, but time is now up for people to pay up and get caught up: “We were pretty lenient after the Covid situation and then the [polar] vortex that happened in February of last year. We were trying to get along and help people, but there are certain people that are just taking advantage of the situation and abusing our generosity. I’m just getting to the point…that every month we have the same people that are late paying. Some of them want to pay a partial payment. They won’t pay their payment off. We’re just to the point where we are going to go back to the way the language in the ordinance reads. In fact, like I said at the meeting, I want to change one of the ordinances to stiffen the penalties.”
The city’s ordinance says that anyone who is late one month on their level pay bill would be immediately kicked off of level pay and be required to immediately pay their balance.
McIntire says that for certain people who are delinquent the city may be lenient, but it’s a case-by-case basis: “I’m not saying we won’t look at situations. There are certain people sometimes maybe they are sick. We do that anyway. Someone might be suffering from cancer or something or other happens and they are having a difficult time. We bend over backwards to try and help them. I’m mainly looking at the people that just abuse the system on a regular basis.”
McIntire proposed doubling re-connection fees for customers who get utilities shut off by the city in order to curb frequently delinquent accounts. He says by doubling the fee, it should make people want to pay their bill on time each month. McIntire says that the city’s budget billing will be recalculated in April and customers on budget billing will likely see a change on their monthly bill in May based upon the recalculations.
McIntire once again emphasized that any customers with the City of Winchester has their bill due on the 25th each month, regardless of if they receive a bill in the mail or not. He encourages any customer of the city to call or come to City Hall and ask questions or if they need assistance.