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New Port Richey going after unpaid debts

NEW PORT RICHEY — More than $1 million in unpaid utility bills and code enforcement citations have stacked up at City Hall.

Now officials are hoping to collect some of that money.

The New Port Richey City Council voted unanimously this week to hire NCSPlus Inc., a New York collections agency, to go after residents with debt owed to the city. The city will pay the firm $22,230.

The residents connected to the roughly 2,000 outstanding accounts can expect a barrage of letters and phone calls urging them to pay up.

"I hope this can begin as soon as possible," said council member Judy DeBella Thomas.

The city's finance department had already been looking into collecting on 1,900 utility accounts that were delinquent more than 90 days — to the tune of more than $400,000 — when the New Port Richey Police Department also found more than 100 outstanding code violations worth $690,000, according to police Chief Jeffrey Harrington.

Harrington then came up with a plan for the city to "piggy-back" onto Pasco County's contract with NCSPlus to collect debts owed to both departments. A provision in the city's charter allows for New Port Richey to join such legally approved county contracts.

Most of the code enforcement debt is years old, as NCSPlus will only try to collect from residents who were cited by an enforcement board that no longer exists.

Harrington said that in 2007 the city stopped using a code enforcement board precisely because collecting on violations issued by the review board proved difficult. Now Harrington's officers have the power to issue citations on the spot.

"We found it very difficult to collect with the board system, so we felt we needed to go back and try to recover those funds," Harrington said.

Residents with outstanding debt can expect a series of letters that begin with notification and increase to threats of a report to the three credit bureaus. NCSPlus also will place three phone calls from collections clerks seeking payment.

NCSPlus also offers the city services to sue residents who continue to leave their debt unpaid, as well as skip tracing on accounts where a resident has moved and not left a forwarding address.

And residents can expect to see collection efforts right away, New Port Richey City Manager John Schneiger told council members.

"We'll do it as soon as we can," he said.

New Port Richey going after unpaid debts 04/08/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 8, 2011 8:28pm]
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