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Arnold Council hears more sewer bill complaints

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 12:41 a.m.
 

Arnold Council is assuring residents that their complaints about sewage billing aren't flushed down the drain once the monthly council meetings are over.

However, Mayor Larry Milito warned there are limits to what council can do to help.

Residents and landlords on Tuesday again hammered city officials with problems regarding the billing process and the city's collection agent, Oakmont-based Pennsylvania Municipal Service Co.

Although complaints have come regularly for two years since the city switched to usage-based sewage fees and hired PAMS to collect them, reports of problems escalated in recent months when the city arranged to have the water shut off to houses with delinquent sewage accounts.

City Clerk Floyd Newingham said PAMS this month sent the New Kensington water authority 123 shutoff orders for Arnold properties with delinquent sewage bills. However, he said the authority still is processing those notices because some of the houses are without water service.

About 500 account holders were warned this year they would be shut off if the accounts weren't made current. Last month, Newingham said the number of delinquencies had been reduced to about 370.

Tuesday's complaints included PAMS' addition of delinquency fees to the bills, customers receiving conflicting reports on the amount of and reason for the fees, delays in landlords receiving final bills for tenants who move out, and landlords or new owners being billed for previous tenants' delinquencies.

Arnold resident and landlord Mary Stapinski was angered by a bill she received in March for a tenant who had moved out in December, despite her requests months ago to get a final bill.

She said she can hold a tenant's security deposit for only 30 days and doesn't have problems getting prompt final bills from other utilities.

“This isn't my bill,” she said, waving the envelope. “I should not be responsible.”

Since she tried to address the delinquency before now, she said she especially shouldn't be charged the late fees.

Residents Karen Corey, Cassandra Houser and Joseph DiMaria said they struggle to get clear answers on how much they owe because they'd be told different amounts on the phone and in person, or would receive additional bills after they were told account were paid.

“I'm at my wits end with this,” DiMaria said.

No one from PAMS was available for comment late Tuesday.

Corey questioned why the city continues to use PAMS in the face of continual complaints.

Milito said the city is in the third and final year of its contract with PAMS.

He said the company has not done anything that warrants the city backing out of the deal.

Milito said officials are investigating other billing options, but he said there are few firms available. He said it would be more expensive to have the billing handled at city hall or by the water authority.

“We're hearing everything you're telling us,” Milito said.

“I take it very seriously,” said Councilman David Horvat, who oversees city finances and has met with PAMS several times. “We're doing everything we can.”

City Solicitor John Pallone cautioned people that they may be getting a skewed view of how many problems there really are with PAMS. He said it's a relatively small pool of people who have complaints when compared with the estimated 2,200 customers in the city.

Pallone said he's had no problems dealing with PAMS personally for his Arnold office or his home in New Kensington.

Arnold resident and landlord John Black said he hasn't had problems with tenant delinquencies because he keeps the sewage bills in his name and factors the cost into his leases.

“It isn't as bleak as it's painted to be,” Pallone said.

Liz Hayes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4680 or lhayes@tribweb.com.

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