Arnold, New Kensington residents whose water service is shut off may have additional charges
By Tom Yerace
Published: Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, 12:06 a.m.
Arnold and New Kensington residents whose water service is shut off because of delinquent sewage bills may have additional charges to worry about.
And one water authority official claims that the additional costs could be having an effect on payment of delinquent bills.
The Municipal Authority of the City of New Kensington, which supplies water to about seven Alle-Kiski Valley communities, also handles the water shutoff requests from the city sanitary authorities in order to spur delinquents to pay their accounts.
Jim Matta, director of the water authority, told authority board members Thursday night that the authority has been working with Pennsylvania Municipal Services (PAMS) on shutoffs. Pennsylvania Municipal Services has taken over the sewage billing for Arnold and New Kensington.
Matta said delinquent customers have to pay their bills in full before the water service can be restored, according to Pennsylvania Municipal Services policy.
However, Matta and authority Solicitor David Regoli said delinquents will be asked to pay more than what they owe for sewage service and restoring water service.
There are charges added to the bills by Pennsylvania Municipal Services, which can double what the delinquents owe.
“If they (delinquents) owe $1,000, they have to pay $2,000?” asked Ron Zampogna, authority chairman. “Who gets the extra $1,000?”
“PAMS does. That's how they make their money,” Matta replied.
“That $2,000 might be an exaggeration,” said Richard Lear, president of the Oakmont-based services. “But certainly there are fees that go the to MSANK (the Municipal Sanitary Authority of New Kensington) and there are fees that go to us. If water (service) is terminated, there are also fees that go to the water authority.”
Lear said customers have an opportunity to pay overdue bills before delinquency fees begin to accumulate and before service is terminated. He said customers who don't pay a bill get a delinquency notice and the next quarterly bill before the company begins water termination procedures.
“The collection structure is that the delinquent pays for the cost of delinquency collection,” Lear said. “Those ratepayers who are paying their bills on time are not paying more to cover cost of delinquent collections.”
Sanitary authority officials noted that residents would not be permitted to remain in a house without running water. As a result, the next step for a property would be condemnation.
Is billing battle affecting delinquency?
The New Kensington water authority has been at odds with the sanitary authority over its decision to go with PAMS for billing instead of the sanitary authority continuing to pay the water authority to do it.
Sewerage billing is based on water usage. The logic is that whatever goes into a household must come out.
When the water authority subsequently instituted a 500 percent increase in the fee it charges to supply each water meter reading — from 25 cents to $1.50, the sanitary authority filed a complaint with the state Public Utility Commission and a lawsuit.
They are pending action by the PUC and the Westmoreland County courts.
However, the additional costs could be having an effect on payment of delinquent bills, Matta said.
Arnold supplied the authority office with an initial list of 68 shutoffs, but 47 of them were already turned off and service had not been restored.
He said the sanitary authority had provided a list of 112 residential shutoffs, but 40 of them had been turned off previously with no restoration of service.
Matta said that the sanitary authority had paid the $100 fee the municipal authority charges to do each shutoff up front in the form of an $11,000 check.
But he said in the future the authority will extend the same courtesy on paying for shutoffs to the city sanitary authority that it does to Arnold.
That involves the municipal authority completing the shutoffs and then billing the sanitary authority.
“Because, as in this case,” Matta said, “the sanitary authority sent us a check for $11,000 but we weren't entitled to all that because we only had to go to 72 homes.”
Dan “Skip” Rowe, sanitary authority manager, and Jack Mihok, chairman of the sanitary authority board, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Staff writer Liz Hayes contributed to this report. Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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