Unpaid utility bills result in write-offs

Unpaid utility bills result in write-offs
TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- KEPR uncovered all kinds of utility bills go unpaid every year. Whatever isn't paid falls on the city, and taxpayers may be affected when the money doesn't come in.

You may not realize how important it is until you don't have it any more.
But keeping your water on means paying a bill.

"A lot of people can't pay their bills...it's not because they don't want to, it's because they just don't have the resources," said John McClain.

McClain has lived in Kennewick for 33 years. He remembers only being late on his utility bill once. And that was back in the 80's.

"It's very important to be on time because you don't want them to turn your utilities off, it's cold out there," he said.

But the reality is, this happens. And Pasco says the efficient system of being able to turn off someone's water when they haven't paid keeps their numbers somewhat low.

In 2013, Pasco wrote off about $17,000 in unpaid utility bills. The city normally averages about $10,000. Kennewick was also up slightly with $32,000 in unpaid utility bills.

Richland bills cover all the same utilities as the others plus electricity. Richland wrote off $54,000 in unpaid bills for 2013 (without ambulance fees). They wrote off about $100,000 in 2012. There isn't an accurate year-to-year comparison because of ambulance fees.

While this adds up to tens of thousands in unpaid bills, all three cities had budgeted for this and were not forced to cut other taxpayer resources to cover the costs.

"As long as I've got work, I'll pay my bills on time," said McClain.

We also checked with the PUD's and found they had a combined $280,000 to write off for last year. While this is a lot, it still represents less than a percent of what's billed.