OCEAN PARK It is the worst part of my job to have to disconnect a customer from (water) service, but I cannot legally let other customers subsidize some who do not pay, North Beach Water District (NBWD) Manager William Neal says. It breaks my heart to see customers being disconnected. If they get behind on their bill, the most important thing is that they need to talk to us, Neal states.
A question recently arose about NBWDs cutoff policies when a disabled man was denied service after a gap in his payments. With some help from family, service was recently reinstated, but his mother inquired whether there might have been a more humane way of handling the matter.
There are charitable organizations that offer financial help to low-income customers through donations and grants and NBWDs door is open to help settle bill collections through payment options.
Secretary Kristin Galovan and Office Manager Jack McCarty go out of their way to keep the customers connected (to the water system). They make phone calls, send out notices and I have even gone to customers sites myself to try to talk with them (about their delinquent bills), Neal says.
We are just doing our job in collecting all legitimate bills. If we did not do this, the state auditor would pick up on it because it would be illegal gifting, Neal concludes.
The Mission Statement of NBWD is to provide high quality water for residential, commercial, industrial and fire protection uses that meets or exceeds local, federal and state standards and to provide courteous and responsive service at the most reasonable cost to our customers.
When property owners cannot or will not pay for the water service they are connected to, NBWD has very specific language in its rules and regulations about the procedure that can lead to a customer or landlord being disconnected from water service. The rules can be found on the Internet at http://northbeachwater.com/rules/ and information is available by calling the office at 665-4144. While tenants may agree to pay water bills, the property owner is ultimately responsible and NBWD can after due process put liens on the property.
More lenient rules
More lenient collection and disconnection of service rules were put in place August 2012. NBWD bills are sent out on the 15th of each month or the next business day and the bill is due within 30 calendar days thereafter. If it is not paid, it then becomes delinquent. Failure to receive mail is not an excuse for failure to pay water bills. Written notice is given and 22 more days are allowed in which to pay the delinquent bill. A waiting period of at least eight days is then put in place before the water can be disconnected.
Bills may be paid at the NBWD office in Ocean Park, by mail, with a credit or debit card, with bank auto-payments or by e-check. Payment is accepted right up to the time the water service is to be disconnected and Neal says that it is not uncommon to receive payment on the final day.
There is the original 30-day period for payment, then 22 days when the bill is delinquent and finally an eight-day period where we call and send notices to the property owner, so we give the customer at least 60 days to pay their water bill. To have water service reconnected the property owner must pay both months bills, a $10 delinquent fee and a $25 reconnect fee. If the property owner wishes to be reconnected on a weekend or holiday the fee is $85, Neal explains.
Statements are sent out to cover service charges and usage fees for the period shown and shall be issued and forwarded by mail to the customer as soon as practical after the service period NBWD rules say.
A three-quarter inch metered pipe has a service charge of $39.73 and then a usage charge of $2.19 per 100 cubic feet of water is added on. A six-inch line has a service charge of $677.23 and the usage fee is the same $2.19 per 100 cubic feet of water. A one-time connection fee for a three-quarter inch line is $1,243 and for a six-inch line it is $21,181. The service charge and connection fee vary for different size lines between three-quarters of an inch and six inches. The fee schedule is also on the NBWD website.
Service will be restored when payment of all proper charges due from customer, including the reconnection charge, have been made. Returned checks or auto-bill payment rejection will be charged a fee as set forth in the NBWD resolution.
Similar rules in Long Beach
Long Beach Water Department (LBWD) has similar regulations to NBWD. Bills are due on the 15th of each month and after 30 days of non-payment they become delinquent. After a two-week extension a letter is sent to tell the property owner or tenant that water service will be discontinued. Reconnection fees are $50 and all past charges and a $10 delinquent fee must be paid before service is reconnected.
NBWD regulations state that if a premise remains delinquent for a period of 60 days or more, and every 60 days thereafter, a lien shall be placed against real property in accordance with RCW 57.08.081(3). The auditor of the county is informed of the charges and any penalties added thereto. Interest will be added at a rate of the prime lending rate of the NBWDs bank plus 4 percentage points per year to the lien. Shall a premise remain delinquent for a period of 180 days or more, the premise shall be permanently disconnected and considered to have abandoned its entitlement to water service according to NBWD rules and regulations.
The NBWD resolution goes on to state that water service shall not be turned on again until all charges, together with penalties for shutting off and turning on the water and for delinquency notification are paid, or a satisfactory arrangement and agreement for payment of delinquent charges and penalties has been made. NBWD may permanently remove the water service, meter and other water supply apparatuses from the premise and the customer will then no longer be charged the Monthly Service Charge after period of 180 days. A final lien shall be placed upon the real property at this time.
If the premise at a later date makes application for new service, it shall be responsible for any and all charges for new service including, but not limited to installation charges, service charges and water system connection charges.
Some help is available
Charitable organizations such as St. Vincent DePaul (642-8401), Friends in His Service (FISH at 642-4987) or the Warm Heart program (800-435-7276) can be of assistance to those who cannot pay their water bill.
Pacific County PUDs Project Warm Heart allows customers to donate to a fund to help needy customers pay their electric bills, as well as helping customers who cannot get help elsewhere. Donations are accepted any time and may be included with your electric bill. For customers who wish to contribute to Project Warm Heart on a regular basis, the PUD will automatically add any amount you wish to contribute to your electrical bill.
Project Warm Heart is administered by Coastal Community Action in the north county area, and by F.I.S.H. in southern Pacific County. All funds collected are used exclusively for this program. If you are interested in donating to this program or receiving help from this program, please give your local PUD office a call.
LBWD has a program for homeowners and renters over 65 years of age where their base water, sewer and storm water service charges may be reduced. Application for this benefit is online at www.longbeachwa.gov/water/ or LBWD can be reached by calling 642-4421 or going to their office at 115 Bolstad Avenue West.