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Should Lathrop give delinquent accounts break on reconnect charges?
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LATHROP – Is $60 too much to pay to back on your water once it has been turned off?

That’s what the Lathrop City Council will decide tonight – revisiting an issue that they first addressed back in October when Councilman Omar Ornelas made his case that the fee was too steep for families that were obviously struggling financially.

But the matter quickly grew contentious as he and Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos came down on opposite sides of the issue and made their cases on.

Lathrop takes in roughly $65,000 every year from people who fail to pay their water bill on time and end up paying the reconnection fee (assessed at $30 for the disconnection and $30 for the reconnection.) On average 100 people a month find their taps dry and 80 percent of those customers cough up the fee plus any back payments to keep the water flowing.

Lathrop’s finance department says that they work with customers when they’re facing financial difficulties – offering extensions if people call prior to the disconnection date.

But each year cities like Lathrop have to write off a portion of the bills that they issue for utilities. According to the report prepared for the meeting back in October, more than 196 accounts went into default last year and left a balance of $31,000 that never got paid.

During that same time frame, Manteca had to write off $225,000 worth of unpaid utility bills. That was actually a decrease – the number totaled $262,000 the previous year.

Scenarios like those are what lead to staff’s recommendation for tonight’s meeting to not change anything about the current water rate structure of the fees associated with reconnecting to the city’s service once it has been interrupted.

Three options are being proposed to the council – do nothing, allow for a one-week extension and slice the bill in half to $30.

Staff is heavily recommending that nothing be done because it could upset the balance that currently exists when it comes to staffing levels, the stability of write-offs, and not having regular customers subsidize the delinquent ones.

Not receiving the income from the reconnection fee could also affect Lathrop’s ability to cover their debt service for existing infrastructure bonds and existing bond covenants – possibly leading to a substantial increase in issuing bonds in the future. Not being able to do so could impact future growth in the community.

If the council decides to move forward with the reduced fee, a noticed public hearing and an amended city ordinance will be required before it is official.

The Lathrop City Council meets tonight at 7 p.m. at Lathrop City Hall – located at 390 Towne Centre Drive. Council meetings are broadcast live on Comcast channel 97.