City staff discover error, 150-200 sewer customers never billed

As many as 150-200 customers had not received their sewer bills over a number of years, the city losing out on several hundred thousand dollars of revenue.

Posted: Jun 9, 2019 9:51 PM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.)-- An internal review by St. Joseph city staff has revealed that up to 150-200 customers who access the city's waste water system had not been getting billed over a number of years.

Mayor Bill McMurray said that he's upset about the problem, much like every other resident who pays a monthly sewer bill.

"I'm upset about that. I certainly receive a bill every month," he said.

The city took over billing for sewer charges from Missouri American Water in 2012. However, in the more than 27,000 accounts they bill each month, some apparently just got lost in the paperwork transfer.

 "People that should have been getting billed for their sewer, residential and commercial customers, never got a bill," said city council member Brian Myers.

Over the years the city has had some issues with getting paid what it is due for sewer fees. In 2017 biodiesel company Blue Sun got behind in its payments. The city forgave several hundred thousand dollars worth of bills and then Blue Sun went bankrupt. Documents show the city had to write off about $884,000 in revenues.

Now, more lost money 

 "If you take 150 of those people a year that weren't getting a bill and if the average sewer bill is $60 per month, that's more than $100,000 per year that is revenue that we should have been collecting," Myers said.

While an exact figure will never be known, it's estimated that the city lost out on well more than a half million dollars, much needed revenue for a city struggling to get the books to balance.

"We need to make sure things like this don't happen because when you're trying to make cuts in a budget to make it balance and then you realize there are people out there that should be paying their fair share and aren't, then it turns into a lot bigger issue than it should be," Myers said.

Myers added that he understands how this might hit hardest on people who struggle month-to-month to pay their sewer bills on time.

 "My heart is with those folks. We do pay substantially more for our sewer than we did several years back," he said.

Administrators at City Hall say they now have a staff of five to better review their sewer billing procedures so that nothing else falls through the gaps.

"I don't care to fix the blame. I want to fix the problem. If people aren't getting bills, let's make sure they're getting bills," said Mayor McMurray.

Staff say they discovered the problem at the beginning of the year and have started billing on those accounts that had previously been overlooked.

They add that they will not go back and re-bill for the years in question.

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