City rejects changes to billing for municipal services

A change to sewer billing proposed by city staff was rejected by Warren City Council on Monday.

Finance Officer Donna Risinger told council that the city has contracts with Pa. Municipal Service (PAMS) for both sewer and recycle fee billing.

She said that PAMS is looking to add a statement billing date to the bills and asking the city to change the code to accommodate the change.

Risinger said this “will not change the 20 days currently provided for charges” but “will eliminate (the) five day grace period prior to (late) charges being assessed.”

The removal of the grace period is what rubbed council the wrong way.

“Do we pay these guys to do the collection service for us?” Councilman John Lewis asked. “How are they dictating the terms rather than us dictating how our billing cycle should be?”

“My understanding, to put a statement date on the bill, (PAMS is) going to run into constraints on timing of the cycle with the five day grace period,” Risinger explained.

Department of Public Works Director Mike Holtz said this change is “not changing the way we do business,” noting that the fees PAMS receives for the service is covered by fees from delinquent customers.

“They (PAMS) found after time (they were) having a timing issue and this was the best solution that everyone could come up with to address,” Solicitor Andrea Stapleford said.

Mayor Maurice Cashman noted that this was “done with staff also” and was not PAMS “coming and dictating terms. (They) came to this solution.”

But Councilman Paul Giannini circled back to the elimination of the removal of the grace period and Lewis noted that the 20 days residents will have to pay their bill will include the time the bill is in the mail.

“They’re (PAMS) just saying they can’t, by putting an invoice date on the bill in the constraints of applying that payment… (They) don’t have time to get that in there with their five day grace (period).”

Holtz said that sewer is difficult to bill, always running a month behind which is the “nature of the utility. Sewer isn’t billed in live time. That’s why collections are hard. People skip out sometimes before the bill ever hits.”

“I don’t know what the problem is here, gentlemen,” Cashman said.

Giannini said the problem was losing the grace period.

“The ordinance is fine the way it is,” Lewis said.

“If that’s the way you want it,” Cashman said.

Stapleford said that many are behind on their sewer bill and don’t have a current due amount “because of this timing problem… Hopefully, people get a more accurate total bill so they know what they have to pay” and avoid shut-offs and liens “beause the information they are getting is more accurate.”

Council didn’t act. Cashman moved to the next agenda due to lack of a motion.