Two Syracuse councilmen assessed late fees on water bills

Jan 6 2013 - 11:38pm

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SYRACUSE -- Nearly a year after the Syracuse City Council implemented a $10 penalty for late water bill payments in an effort to encourage residents to pay their monthly water bill on time, city records show that two city councilmen have each been assessed the penalty on two different occasions for making late payments in 2012.

The two councilmen who were assessed the late fees are Brian Duncan and Larry Shingleton, according to city records obtained by the Standard-Examiner through an open-records request.

The same records for 2012 reveal Syracuse Mayor Jamie Nagle and council members Craig Johnson, Doug Peterson and Karianne Lisonbee, listed under the name of her husband James Lisonbee, were timely with their monthly payments.

Duncan was assessed the late payment fee, penalized in back-to-back months -- August and September 2012 -- a total of $20.

Shingleton was assessed a $10 penalty on Feb. 28, 2012, on his residence at 2226 W. Craig Lane, and another penalty Sept. 30, 2012, on his residence at 1738 W. Ira Way, according to records.

City water bills are due the 25th of every month, with a penalty assessed following a 10-day grace period, said City Finance Manager Stephen Marshall.

"There were two occasions we were late because the post office sent two of the billings to the wrong address," Shingleton told the Standard-Examiner in a phone interview.

What has happened in the past is his son was living at the 1738 E. Ira Way residence, Shingleton said.

The post office would forward a lot of mail to that address where they share the same last name, he said.

Outside of that, Shingleton said, people are late from time to time on their billings. He said he believes the $10 late fee does serve as incentive for most people to pay their water bill on time.

In addition to the two penalties in 2012, Shingleton was also assessed three late water billing penalties in 2011.

Before the council implemented the $10 late fee in January 2012, the city charged a late fee on water billings of less than 1 percent of the total balance owed, Marshall said.

Shingleton's billings reveal he was assessed late fees totaling $2.94 for three separate late water payments. He was assessed the penalties on

Jan. 31, Feb. 28 and May 31 in 2011, according to city records.

Duncan, who became a member of the city council on Feb. 28, 2012, after the council had already implemented the penalty, said it was not smart on his part to miss the billing cycle.

"The bill got lost in the mail or in my paperwork. So, the second time, I just let it go," he said, explaining the consecutive late fees he was assessed.

The second missed billing was just a reaction out of frustration to having missed the billing cycle the first time, Duncan said, and had nothing to do with his personal finances.

"I was disgusted the first one slipped past me," Duncan said. "It is as simple as that; for whatever reason, I didn't see the first bill."

Duncan said even though he wasn't a member of the council when it adopted the $10 fee, he supports it, because it provides incentive to residents to pay their water bill in a timely manner.

"If people want to be late, I'm fine with them paying the (penalty)," Duncan said.

From February 2012 to November 2012 -- since the city began implementing the penalty -- the city has assessed 8,445 penalties, generating $84,450 in revenues, Marshall said.

The late fee has been a point of contention among city leaders.

Nagle contends the city, by not having previously assessed a penalty, was losing about $100,000 a year.

Meanwhile, during a work meeting in February 2012, Lisonbee proposed that the city offer some sort of hardship waiver for those unable to pay the penalty.

"According to the presentation of the city finance director (Marshall), before the implementation of the late fee, over two-thirds of late payments were within the one month past-due mark. I proposed that many of those people may be living paycheck to paycheck," Lisonbee said in an email to the Standard-Examiner.

Lisonbee said she recommended at the time that the city offer a hardship waiver a maximum of six times in a calendar year. Her proposal never reached a council vote.

Marshall said the city's $10 late fee is about average when compared to what other cities in the Top of Utah assess residents for late water payments.

The city began assessing late fees on Feb. 7, 2012, for all accounts that were past due, Marshall said. Prior to that, the penalty was on the city's consolidated fee schedule but had not been implemented, he said.

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