After weeks of discussion, officials in Ringgold have approved portions of a new policy for how it will handle delinquent water bills moving forward.
During consecutive City Council meetings on Aug. 13 and 27, the board discussed both in work sessions and public meeting how it wants to construct its policy for delinquent accounts.
City staff researched policies of other cities and entities in preparation of drafting its protocol.
“We’ve got enough information to go back and bring back a policy that will sort of mirror that of Catoosa Utility District and maybe use some of that information that we received from the city of Fort Oglethorpe,” City Manager Dan Wright said on Aug. 13.
Mayor Nick Millwood said it’s important for the city to have a fair policy that falls in line with surrounding water systems.
“We have a lot of crossover in our customers with Catoosa Utility District and the city of Ringgold, and I think having a more uniform system where everybody is on the same page with would be very good not only for us, but for our customers,” Millwood said.
On Aug. 27, the board unanimously approved the first draft of the proposed policy after sorting out some of the details regarding payment extensions.
If an extension is needed in order to pay a bill, customers can go to City Hall to make a “hardship payment” arrangement prior to the cutoff date.
Wright initiated discussion about how often such payments could be made, which lead to customers only being able to do so one time during a consecutive 12-month period.
“There may be the need for some additional language there; maybe once per year or something of that nature so that it’s not just a reoccurring type situation,” Wright said. “Otherwise, you’re going to have the potential for the same customer to do multiple times a year and then the next thing you know it’s going to get out of hand even for themselves.”
Councilman Randall Franks also raised the question of how the city would determine what types of “hardships” would qualify.
“What is a hardship for one person isn’t a hardship for another necessarily,” Franks said. “There needs to be some criteria established to determine what is a hardship.”
Even though the policy was approved, the board agreed that language could be added in the future, specifically regarding how services would be handled for a certain parcel of land if there is an existing delinquent balance from a previous owner.
“Is it fair to charge new a property owner if a previous owner has an outstanding bill?” Councilman Larry Black asked. “Is it fair to a new property owner that may have no idea that the city is owed X amount of money from years past?”
Wright said a lot of mortgage companies nowadays address such issues when homes and pieces of land are purchased, but that the city attorney would be consulted on that potential point of the policy.
“It’s something we’ll have to get our attorney to look at,” Wright said.