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Jim Thorpe thirsting for water payments

Published May 27. 2010 05:00PM

Residents of Jim Thorpe's West Side who are 90 days or more behind on their water payments will have their valves shut off today.

Approximately 70 homes in the West Side - which includes the borough's historic district and the Heights, one of its main residential areas - will lose their water after receiving notice last week.

The shutoffs are intended to combat a sum of $192,000 in delinquent bill payments, which the borough council's water committee first introduced at an annual meeting May 14. This deficit is compounded by the borough's sewer treatment plant, which is reportedly in dire need of repairs.

"This is not a new problem," Joanne Klitsch, the chair of the Jim Thorpe Sewer and Sanitation Department, said. "In the past, the water department has let it slide.

"We're very sympathetic to these issues, but this had to be done."

According to Klitsch, who was assigned her position by bourough council President Justin Yaich in January, the committee's current collection effort is in complete adherence with official policy. It does not represent any revision instituted by the current administration.

"In the past, we allowed citizens to pay their bills in partial amounts," Greg Strubinger, chairman of the water committee, said. "Some did and it worked for them, but the majority didn't, and they saw their bills getting larger due to late fees."

Strubinger, who was also appointed in January, claimed that under the previous administration's system, collection policies traditionally did not become a priority until the total deficit reached $30,000. When the borough office staff related the current, much-inflated amount to Strubinger in a report issued earlier this month, he knew he had to act immediately.

"I felt it was our responsibility to bring that number down," he said. "The only way I saw to do so was to better enforce our official policy."

Specifically, under the policy, the committee is responsible for issuing warnings to citizens who are more than 90 days behind payment every other month, alternating between the borough's East and West sides. The citizens are then given between seven and 10 days to pay what they owe, otherwise their water is turned off. Once the debt is reconciled, the borough can reinstate water privileges for a minimal fee.

Initially, Strubinger planned on allowing for more than 10 days between warning and suspension of service, but a unanimous push by council members and citizens alike at the May 14 meeting forced him to adhere to policy.

By collecting the owed funds immediately, the council hopes to not only eliminate the deficit and repair the ailing sewer treatment plant, but also pay off some of the loans used to update Jim Thorpe's water system, a process completed in gradual steps over the past 10 years.

"We've spent close to $1 million on upgrades for the borough's water and sanitation systems," Strubinger said. "Jim Thorpe now has some of the best water around. It's the responsibility of the citizens to help us pay some of that debt back."

Jennifer Bayard, a three-year resident of Jim Thorpe, doesn't share Strubinger's outlook.

"A one-week time frame is ridiculous," she said. Bayard herself received a notice last Thursday that her water was in danger of being shut off.

"I completely understand that the water department needs to be paid and that some residents are behind, but many people live paycheck to paycheck. One week will not make people pay any faster if the money is not in their bank account or if they didn't get paid that week."

Despite the numerous complaints his office has been receiving, Strubinger is confident that residents living in Jim Thorpe's East Side will have plenty of time to get their affairs in order before notices are issued to them in June.

"My objective is to help residents through this tough situation," he said.

"Our plan is to enforce this policy and see what happens. Other than that, there's not much that we can do."

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