Greg Strubinger, chairman of the Jim Thorpe Borough Council's Water Committee, provided a report to the council on delinquent utility customers in the borough, during its normal monthly meeting Thursday evening. The report shocked council members and residents attending the meeting.
According to borough billing data, customers that are seriously delinquent – more than 90 days behind on their bills – currently owe $192,000. These bills are for water, sewer and garbage pickup services.
"It appears that this is quite a bit more than just hardship cases," Strubinger said. He acknowledged that many borough residents were experiencing tough times in this economy, but added, "It's unfair to those residents who are finding a way to manage their finances. This is seriously hurting our cash flow as well."
Part of the problem is that the borough doesn't currently have a set procedure for shutting off utilities. While shut-off notices are routinely delivered after a customer reaches the 90-days past due point, the utilities are not immediately shut off. When they are, customers are given a payment plan that allows them to get their utilities back, but many don't follow through with the payments.
Garbage collection is even more difficult for the borough because it cannot be easily turned off. If the garbage service doesn't take away the trash of a delinquent borrower, it hurts the neighbors who are paying their bills.
A number of ideas were proposed during the meeting, from borough council members, solicitor James Nanovic and residents in the audience. In the end, the council voted to give Strubinger the power to shut off utilities if residents don't pay and to demand full payment before utility service is restored.
Strubinger wanted to give borough residents some time to get funds together to pay overdue amounts, but most others at the meeting were in favor of giving delinquent residents only 10 days to get their bills paid.
Nanovic said that delinquent borrowers who do not pay their bills may end up in court and could lose other assets to settle the debt.
Strubinger said he was committed to bringing down the delinquency and getting delinquent residents back on track.