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Published: Thursday, 6/10/2010

Toledo plans fewer water liens

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo Mayor Mike Bell yesterday said his administration would cut back on the practice of placing liens on properties because of delinquent utility bills from a previous homeowner.

The mayor also said people who don't pay their water bills, and who don't attempt to get on a payment plan for an unpaid bill, will have the service shut off after seven weeks.

Mr. Bell said there was concern that the city was not fairly placing liens on properties where unpaid water bills had accrued.

"We sat down with the auditor's office to see if there was a way we could work together to be able to pursue collections in a more fair way," Mr. Bell said. "When we got together, we realized there were a couple little glitches in the system. A lot of it was just being able to talk to each other."

Mr. Bell said the city and the Lucas County auditor's office will make available on their Web sites information about properties and whether a lien exists. But that still would not eliminate the problem of a lien being filed on a home for water usage by a previous owner after the house is purchased by someone else.

"It is important for us to collect on fees that are not being paid," Mr. Bell said. "When we do that, we are able to keep our rates down for our customers who are paying."

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

Tom Crothers, the city's director of the Department of Public Utilities, said the city would not completely stop the process of placing liens on properties for delinquent bills from previous owners, which he maintains is legal.

"We are not doing away with liens because that is a bona fide way and an effective way of getting our money," Mr. Crothers said yesterday.

Ms. Lopez previously has 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.

The city filed 1,495 liens last year, before Mr. Bell was mayor.

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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