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Water thieves get locked out of city system
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Eighty homes in Manteca are without water.

That’s because the city has locked off the service due to unauthorized service restoration.

The city has removed the water meter making it impossible for service to be accessed.

The action is the result of not the non-payment of municipal utility bills but what is essentially the theft of city water.

Thirty-one of the 80 locked off services took place this month.

July had 304 accounts that were delinquent enough to have service disconnected. Of those, 272 customers had service restored upon receipt of payment.

The city has made $5,000 in federal Community Block Grant pass through funds aimed to helping low-income areas available to help households struggling with their water bills. The $5,000 grant was given to Love INC that intends to help 17 individuals and families in Manteca that are low- to moderate-income and whose water is in danger of being disconnected for non-payment. Love INC will max the assistance at $100 a month for up to three months per household.

Bad debt write-offs for non-payment of municipal utilities dropped this year for the first time in four years. Bad accounts had been growing since the start of the foreclosure crisis.

Manteca wrote off $225,722 in uncollectible debt this year compared to $261,954 last year. The utility write-off was $87,945 in 2008.

The reduction is credited to more aggressive shut-off noticing plus a new service policy instituted two years ago.

It requires a renter’s agreement when water service is opened. That means to open a service, you must have a copy of the rental agreement to present to the city. That makes it harder to simply shift the account into someone else’s name after it goes delinquent for several months unless a new rental agreement has been signed.

A number of those who were delinquent and had received final notices for water cutoff would send someone else living in the household to say there were the new tenants and that they knew nothing of the outstanding bill.

In most cases, the city had no way of verifying validity of the story.

Other losses are attributed to people who have stopped paying mortgage payments. They are highly likely to stop paying for water a month or so before they are sure they will have to vacate the property.