Kyle looks to collect on overdue utility bills

By Moses Leos III

With $1 million in money owed to Kyle stemming from delinquent utility bills, the city is now taking much more stringent measures to collect.

But one city council member believes the city must also overhaul the way it takes payment from current customers.

In February, the Kyle City Council voted to amend a court collection agreement with Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson, LLP to allow for the collection of delinquent utility fees.

Perwez Moheet, Director of Finance in Kyle, said the city cannot ignore delinquent utility accounts that go to collections.

“We have to comply with our fiduciary responsibility,” Moheet said. “It doesn’t go away, it has to be absorbed, so the rest of our customers absorb it into their rates. To be fair to everyone else, we have to make an effort to collect.”

Within the city’s amended agreement, Kyle would allow Linebarger to collect on utility accounts that are 60 days past due or older. The accounts relate to water, wastewater and trash services provided by Kyle.

Moheet said 60 percent of the city’s delinquent utility accounts are over three years old. According to the agreement, which expires March 2018, Linebarger will administer a collection fee of 30 percent of the actual amounts owed to the city. The rate, according to city documents, is similar to the collection rate for court collections.

According to Moheet, the city entered into a contract in 2007 with a CSII, a collection agency, for delinquent utility accounts. But he said the city “discovered” a decline in collection rate from the company.

“We had to do something different because our receivable balances were increasing,” Moheet said. “We had to try something new.”

He added Linebarger is “pretty aggressive” on collection activities.

Moheet said the city’s ultimate goal is to ensure customers are in compliance. He said the city does “everything possible” to help customers “stay on course with utility accounts.”

He said the city institutes partial payment plans to assist those with financial hardships. According to Communications Specialist Kim Hilsenbeck, the city has “11 different ways” for residents to pay their utility bills.

“We know people have financial hardships and try to make things work,” Moheet said. “We don’t want to report (citizens) to credit agencies, or have their water cut off or have collection agencies call them.”

District 6 counclimember Daphne Tenorio said she was okay with working with Linebarger to collect outstanding fees.

Tenorio said she has seen Linebarger work with the school district on collections and they are “amazing.”

“We need help with outstanding bills,” Tenorio said. “These are people who moved away, people who looked to write off accounts. The opportunity to collect, that’s a ‘yes’ thing for us.”

But Tenorio said the city’s current process of one billing date is outdated. She said the one billing date “worked when we were a small city,” but now the procedure places strain on city staff.

Tenorio faced the struggle when she attempted to make a payment in October 2015, but found the line to pay utility bills “was out the door.” She didn’t believe it was a lack of customer service, but said city staff was “just overwhelmed.”

“They were working hard to get everyone through, but the line was crazy,” she said. “There was a lot of negative emotion from people in line.”

For Tenorio, adding multiple billing dates for customers is the solution. She said she would like the city divided into quadrants, allowing for four payment dates per month.

She also believed improvements such as automated phone payment systems could also help the city.

“I’d like to see less stress placed (on city staff),” she said. “Multiple payment dates is the way to do so.”

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