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Published: Friday, 4/30/2010

Bell promises new policy on overdue bills

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Public Utilities Director Tom Crothers, left, and Mayor Mike Bell discuss the city's new approach toward delinquent utility bills. Public Utilities Director Tom Crothers, left, and Mayor Mike Bell discuss the city's new approach toward delinquent utility bills.
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Toledo Mayor Mike Bell said his administration has for weeks been working on changing a policy that one of his top administrators called "patently ridiculous" in which a property owner gets a lien because of delinquent utility bills from a previous homeowner.

"This process has been going on since 1986," Mr. Bell said a day after Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez told The Blade that she had has stopped processing property water liens from the city because of complaints over the practice.

"Within two weeks, we will have a new policy of debt owed to the city," the mayor said during a news conference he called to address the issue.

Tom Crothers, director of the Department of Public Utilities for the city, said the city would not completely stop the process of placing liens on properties for delinquent bills from previous owners.

"We recognize, as the mayor indicated, we have to be more user-friendly," Mr. Crothers said.

Although he said it is "patently ridiculous" for someone to get a lien for a bill they did not create, Mr. Crothers said it is absolutely legal.

However, Ms. Lopez said her office's attorneys have interpreted the city's law to say the administration cannot place a lien on a property if the delinquent bills are from a previous owner.

Ms. Lopez on Wednesday said her office is investigating the validity of 2,000 liens from the city filed in 2009 under Mayor Carty Finkbeiner.

But yesterday, Mr. Crothers said the city had filed 1,495 liens last year.

Ms. Lopez also highlighted one extreme case of an individual, who does not wish to be identified, who purchased a home and later learned of a lien on the prop-erty for a delinquent water bill of $7,149.

Mr. Bell said that bill was "taken care of" last week, that the man was no longer responsible for the bill, and the lien would be lifted.

The city has been behind in collections in the water department.

City Council voted April 13 to put more collection firms to work to bring in $18.7 million in water and sewer bills. The ordinance allows the city to contract with three agencies.

Of that money, $5.4 million represents current invoices that have been sent out less than 30 days ago; $1.1 million is less than 60 days delinquent, but more than 30 days delinquent; $632,000 is less than 90 days delinquent, but more than 60 days delinquent; $1.4 million is less than 180 days delinquent, but more than 90 days delinquent; $1.7 million is less than 365 days delinquent, but more than 180 days delinquent; and $8.4 million is greater than 365 days delinquent.

The city considers $13.3 million delinquent from water, sewer, storm water, and garbage services, said Jeff Pax, manager of utilities administration for the city.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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