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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Several reasons offered on why St. Petersburg residents pay water bills late



ST. PETERSBURG — A discussion about city grants segued into late fees on water bills and why some residents don’t pay on time.

At the Budget, Finance & Taxation Committee meeting Thursday morning, Wayne Finley, contract and grants officer, updated council members on grants being pursued for the city.

Council member Wengay Newton discussed nonprofit groups running out of money to help struggling residents with everyday expenses like water bills.

He took issue with how the city adds late fees on the bills.
Besides the $5 added when a payment is paid late, the city then charges the customer $8 to send a late notice. If the water is turned off for nonpayment a $15 charges is added; $15 is added to restore service.

It will also cost another $35 to restore service after normal business hours.
Newton said the city raised $800,000 last year from the $8 notices and should only charge the $5 fee like Progress Energy and BrightHouse Networks.

“It’s like dumping water on a drowning man,” Newton said. “These are people who can ill-afford to pay the bill.”

In response, Finley said grant researchers found that some people simply don’t want to pay water bills, adding: “maybe that wasn’t their top thing in their priority list.”

Further, he said that struggling homeowners need to learn how to budget money, especially when they receive large sums from tax refunds.
Newton disagreed.

“A single mother making $19,000 a year has to choose to feed her kids or pay the bill,” he said.

After the meeting, Newton said he expects residents to pay the water bills but tacking on layers of late fees isn’t the answer for struggling homeowners, adding: “They’re being double billed.”

[Last modified: Thursday, July 19, 2012 10:41am]


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