Pasco Finance Manager Dunyele Mason acknowledges that sometimes life happens and a utility bill or even two slip through the cracks.
So as the city looks toward replacing its financial software system during the next couple of years, Mason is recommending the city council approve some changes she thinks will benefit the city and utility customers who have fallen on hard times.
Under Pasco's billing system, water bills are due the day they're printed and mailed. They're considered past due after 20 days, and a late fee kicks in after 30.
But if a month has five weeks, then there's a 35-day billing cycle and the latest bill a customer gets may not show the late fee and therefore may not reflect the real amount owed, Mason told the council.
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She'd like to see the late fee kick in after 25 days so that the late fee will show up whether a given month has a 28-day or 35-day billing cycle.
Mason also would like to change the city's practices for when someone is disconnected, and require payment of past due and current bills -- plus reconnection fees -- when someone's water is shut off.
Pasco utility customers get disconnected five days after they get their second past-due bill, but with a coming shift in mail processing from Pasco to Spokane, there's a concern people won't get a disconnect notice within the five-day window.
Mason suggested adding an extra week to allow time for the notice to be mailed and received.
Her philosophy is most people will pay to avoid disconnection once they get the notice.
She also recommended altering the policy for disconnected customers so they have to pay only the past-due amount plus reconnection fees to get their water turned back on.
"Sometimes people need a little more time to get caught up," she said.
"Most of the time, people do get themselves caught up," she told the council. "The risk of loss -- while it's there -- is a small percentage of people in that situation."
Only about 4 percent of the city's utility accounts fall so far behind that they get shut off, and that number has gone down as the city has promoted an automatic payment option, she said.
Mayor Matt Watkins said he was concerned about letting people off the hook for their total bill when resuming service but said he would consider a system that gives someone who otherwise has been a good customer a second chance when they fall behind.
But he would want the small group of people who chronically get disconnected to have to continue to pay the full amount.
Mason said that's something the utility department easily could do.
"We have their account history. It's not a burden to determine," she said.
As a final suggestion, Mason said the city should consider abandoning its practice of charging utility deposits to people who own their homes.
She said it costs the city money to keep track of the thousands of utility deposits, but that the deposits don't significantly reduce the risk of the city losing money from homeowners because the city can put a lien on a house when the utility bill isn't paid.
"It's not worth the cost of tracking all of those transactions and the ins and outs of owner deposits," Mason said.
She would keep deposits in place for renters.
No action was taken Monday. The council likely will discuss utility billing again in November.