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Town increases fees for late
payment of utility bills

(3/5) The Emmitsburg Board of Commissioners voted unanimously at their March 5 meeting to increase the late fee for delinquent utility customers.

The recommendation to increase the fee was proposed by town staff, and passed on a motion made by Commissioner Clifford Sweeney and seconded by Commissioner Glenn Blanchard.

As a result of the action taken by the commissioners, the late fee for utility bills will go from two percent to five percent, effective as of the next billing period. In Emmitsburg, water, sewer and trash services are combined and sent-out as one utility bill.

Soon-to-retire Town Clerk Donna DesPres told the board that she felt the increase would inspire more water and sewer bill customers to pay their bill in a more-timely manner, than has been the case thus far.

She said town staff recommended the late fee increase "in the hope of getting customers to pay their bills sooner."

DesPres said the town serves approximately 1,200 water, sewer and trash customers, and of those, around 20 percent, or 250, are generally late in paying their service bills. Customers have 30 days after receiving their bills to pay.

The town mailed-out 250 late notices during the last billing period, with 87 of those subsequently being sent service cut-off notices. Of the 87 cut-off notices sent, the utility services of 20 customers were ultimately shut off until their tab was paid.

The current late fee of two percent, DesPres said, "doesn’t seem to be getting the job done."

During discussions leading up to the adoption of the increased late fee, the board asked if the reconnection fee could be increased instead.

Currently, customers pay a $100 fee to the town to reconnect their services once they have been shut off.

Town Manager David Haller, also retiring from his position this year, noted that raising the reconnect fee was generally a more difficult process, as doing so has to be justified based on the costs incurred by the town in conducting a reconnect.

The new five percent late fee adopted is now among the highest of the several communities surveyed by town staff.

Of the seven municipalities examined in Frederick County, only Smithsburg’s late fee will be higher at 10 percent. Walkersville remains the lowest at one percent.

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