February 06, 2013 - If your water or sewer bill isn't sent in on time, you'll be paying a higher late fee since the Independence Township Board of Trustees voted 6-1 to raise the penalty from five to ten percent. Trustee Jose Aliaga voted against the increase.
"In October, we placed $400,000 onto the tax roll of unpaid water and sewer bills," said Treasurer Paul Brown when he proposed the higher late fee. "We bill out $6 million a year in water and sewer; last year we had $1 million that was not paid timely. I think that number's too high."
According to Brown, charging a five percent penalty rate, "doesn't recover for us our costs associated with not having the money, which includes my ability to invest the money to get a reasonable return as well as our costs of reissuing billings about the late fees."
Aliaga felt increasing the penalty to 10 percent was too severe.
"I know these are difficult times for many people in the township," he said. "An increase from 5 to 10 percent is like a 100 percent increase. What about if we increase it just to 7.5 percent?"
"It's not really a penalty," he said. "If we don't make a good effort to get the fair amount, then we've actually treated the folks who have paid on time unfairly."
In addition, the treasurer said he contacted about eight nearby communities about their late penalty rates and found only Waterford charges five percent. All the other townships charge 10 percent.
Although the water rate, which is $1.98 per 100 cubic feet of water, has been maintained, in October the board voted to increase sewer rates from $80 to $83.25 per quarter.
While Aliaga thought citizens were struggling to make their payments on time because of economic hardships, Brown suggested there might be other reasons.
"I think there are a large majority of people who don't pay it on time because it wasn't that important, and they aren't going to get penalized very harshly," he stated. "On an individual basis, if they're on sewer only, it's $90 or $80 a quarter, so a five percent penalty is five bucks," Brown explained. "If someone's looking at a bill and sees it's going to cost $10, I think that could have an impact."
Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Linda Richardson pointed out, "when people call, and they have certain circumstances, as long as they are making an effort to pay us, we do not put that penalty on there."
Residents can sometimes make partial payments, and they can contact the DPW to get their bill emailed rather than waiting for it to arrive in the mail, she added.
"There are avenues for people who are under stress," Trustee David Lohmeier confirmed.
"I'm comfortable we have flexibility in cases of true hardship," said Trustee Andrea Schroeder.
Residents can expect to see the higher penalty on the next sewer or water billing cycle. View their water and sewer bills online at www.twp.independence.mi.us. Township Board meets again, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m.
Clarkston News reporter