The city of Fort Smith will reinstate late fees on utility bills beginning in October with disconnects becoming a thing again.
In November 2018, while in the beginning stages of customer water and sewer bill problems brought on by new water meters and a new computerized billing system, the city suspended utility billing customer account late fees and service disconnects for nonpayment. Only one customer has had service disconnected for nonpayment since November 2019, said City Administrator Carl Geffken, and that customer was several months in arrears on his bill.
“The City of Fort Smith and the Utility Department were pleased to be able to suspend late fees and disconnects due to non-payment while we worked on our internal process with the new billing system,” a mailer that will be included in September bills states. “We appreciate the patience shown while we operated through our challenges.”
But now that the bugs have been worked out of the billing system, it is time to get back to normal billing procedures, said Utilities Director Jerry Walters.
As of the end of July, there are 6,000 delinquent utilities accounts, Walters told members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors at a board study session Tuesday (Aug. 13). That equals about $2 million in outstanding city revenue, he added. Only a small portion, around 100, that were affected by the historic flooding of the Arkansas River in May have outstanding accounts.
Beginning in October, the city will assess late fees on unpaid bills. The late fees will not be assessed to outstanding balances on the account from months prior to September, only for the September bill and beyond, Walters said.
Service disconnects will not begin until 2020, with notices beginning in late January, and the first disconnects not scheduled until February, he said. This time, hopefully, will allow customers to gather necessary funds to pay their bills, he added.
“We want to make sure to get the word out to customers. We will issue a press release and use social media,” Walters said. “We want to give them ample notification so they will know it is coming.”
Notices will be put in all bills beginning the billing cycle that will go out in early September. Also in September, customers with outstanding accounts will be mailed a direct notice that late fees would resume in October.