February 3, 2013 in City

Sewer payments see backup

County weighs foreclosures as liens increase to $3 million
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Map of this story's location
By the numbers

1,800: Number of delinquent sewer accounts in Spokane County

$3 million: Total unpaid sewer bills subject to liens

$1,795: Average lien value

Spokane County commissioners are prepared to get tough on people who haven’t paid their sewer bills.

The county has 1,800 delinquent sewer accounts and has filed property liens against the worst offenders.

The total of unpaid sewer bills subject to liens is $3 million.

That amount is up from $2.1 million a year ago. The average lien value is $1,795.

The commissioners approved a plan to send notices to all customers with liens on their properties, warning that the county could move to foreclose and take the properties if the amounts are not paid.

More than 90 percent of the delinquencies are for service to single-family homes.

Under a proposal before the commissioners, foreclosure action could be pursued on 70 or more of the largest delinquencies. The worst of them are valued in excess of $30,000.

Bills may include initial hookup fees and an accumulation of monthly service fees, late penalties and interest. Some property owners have several houses with sewer liens.

Utilities Director Bruce Rawls said it would be the first time that the county has used foreclosure against sewer delinquencies.

He said he never thought the problem would get bad enough for foreclosure, “but I think we are there today.”

Commissioner Todd Mielke asked that the utility staff carefully review each property subject to foreclosure to make sure the property is not troubled in other ways. He also asked that efforts to iron out bugs in the county’s electronic billing and notice system continue.

County liens take precedence over other liens, said chief civil attorney Jim Emacio.

As a result, mortgage lenders might step up and pay off the sewer fees to clear the title to the property, officials said.

The county is going to offer payment plans so that property owners can catch up on their bills through monthly payments rather than through a lump sum.

Foreclosure action won’t occur for several weeks at the earliest, and would be authorized through a formal resolution by the commissioners.

Commercial properties account for only 2 percent of the value of the sewer liens.

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