The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Local News

March 22, 2014

Leveraging sewer payments

By Brenden West

Assistant Editor

CLINTON — State senators are on the brink of debating a bill that may not have statewide ramifications, but if passed it will go a long way to helping local governments.

State Reps. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, and Steve Olson, R-DeWitt, co-sponsored the legislation allowing cities with private water utilities — including Clinton and several cities in Scott County — to contract for better enforcement of delinquent bill payments. This is a unique problem to the Gateway and Quad-City regions, since these are the only places in Iowa where contracted water utility arrangements exist.

However, Wolfe said there has been plenty of traction for the law in Des Moines since it was introduced to legislators last month.

“Over the past three years, there’s been a lot of publicity about how we can fix this,” Wolfe said. “It’s kind of a big deal because there’s no way to enforce our sewer bill collection here in Clinton.”

Typically, Wolfe said she prefers to let city issues resolve themselves. Delinquent utility payments have long existed in Clinton, ever since the city opted to contract with Iowa-American Water in the early 1980s.

The problem grew into a hindrance over time. Clinton still provides residents their sewer utility, and since water and sewer are interrelated, the agreement with Iowa-American Water took away the city’s authority to shut off unpaid residential utilities.

The city tried to enforce this by placing a lien on homes.

This would have made property sales impossible for homeowners with outdated utility payments.

When the housing market crashed during the mid-2000s, Wolfe said the city met another delinquent dead end. By now, she estimated the city has over $3 million in outstanding bills not received.

“The accrued billing for sewer just kept adding up,” she said. “They’re trying to get a grip on it. They’re just desperately trying to figure out some way to do this.”

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