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Woolwich to attach overdue water bills to property taxes in bid to simplify collections process

Looking to simplify the collection process for overdue water and sewer bills – and increase the chance of getting its hands on the money – Woolwich will be adding the amount owing to the property taxes of those in arrears.

The new system would replace a time-consuming procedure, director of finance Richard Petherick told councillors meeting Tuesday night.

The current system requires new customers to post a security deposit of $250 – refundable after a year in good standing – and relies on water shutoffs in cases of delinquency, moving the amount owning to a collection agency when that fails to get the bill paid.

The current system is onerous, requiring a bylaw enforcement officer and a water department crew member to go to the home to shut off the water after an escalating series of warnings.

“The doesn’t happen very often, fortunately,” said Petherick.

Under the new system, the township can just put the arrears on the property tax bill.

“When a final bill is issued the customer will have thirty (30) days to make payment. If the account remains unpaid after this time it will be transferred to the tax roll. Additional fees will be charged for the transfer and collected in the same manner as taxes,” he said in report.

That prompted Coun. Murray Martin to question whether people in arrears in their water bills might also be behind on their taxes.

There’s some overlap, said Petherick, but not often, as people are more likely to stay current on their taxes given the ramifications of falling behind.

The new process becomes a little trickier in the case of rental units, as the overdue amount will be added to the owners’ tax bills, leaving them to track down any delinquent tenants who may have skipped out on the bill.

The new system reduces to $150 the deposit for a new water account for residential tenants and $500 for new commercial tenants.

Responding to a question from Coun. Patrick Merlihan about the number of cases that move to the shutoff level, Petherick noted the last list had 28 properties, though sometimes they get paid up before the shutoff is actually carried out given how time-consuming the process can be.

Merlihan asked about a hardship clause that might be needed in cases where, for instance, someone has lost a job and is having trouble paying bills.

“Not at this time,” said Petherick. “There is no relief program.”

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