Legislation has recently been changed that will allow the city to add unpaid water bills to the taxes for a property - an option that is currently under debate with council. This problem usually happens with rental properties, when the tenant leaves without ensuring that all their debts are paid. It also can be an issue with commercial properties that are leased - the lessee does not always pay their bills either.
Part of the problem is that water bills are only paid quarterly, rather than monthly, so someone could move out of a property leaving the water bill unpaid, and by the time the bill is sent, the person who used the water is long gone, so shutting off the water to the residence isn't possible - someone new is likely living there now, and it wouldn't be fair to make them pay the costs for water that they didn't use. Although the city tries to get repaid by using collection agencies, that doesn't always work, and eventually, the debt is written off.
This may seem like not that big of a problem, but it is. The most recent amount that had to be written off, covering the last four years, was roughly $450,000 - not an insignificant amount. When the debt is written off, then the rest of the tax base, those people who pay their water bills and taxes, ends up picking up the expenses that would have been covered by the unpaid debt. And that's not fair.
I think that the solution made possible by the changes to legislation will make things much more fair. The city will be able to add the amount unpaid to the taxes for the residence or commercial property, and the owner will end up paying.
I know that some landlords feel that this is unfair, as they didn't run up the water bill, or leave without paying it, and I can understand that initial reaction. However, I also know some landlords that include the water bill in the rent, so that they don't have to worry about whether the tenant is paying the bill. I also know that the landlord can write off such additional expenses as part of their business expenses. I think that it's more fair than having tax payers eventually make up the difference.
I also think that moving to monthly billing for water will reduce the problem somewhat. A bill that's only a third the size should be more manageable for those tenants who have to pay their own utilities directly, and the city should catch those who aren't paying more quickly.
In any case, I think that moving to this option, which will reduce the amount of unpaid money that the city ends up writing off will mean that we have more money to take care of our ongoing responsibilities of maintaining this city-run facility - one of our more crucial responsibilities.
"Credit is a system whereby a person who can't pay, gets another person who can't pay, to guarantee that he can pay." - Charles Dickens