April 19, 2014 in Washington Voices

County to collaborate on utility bill payments

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Sewer utility customers who pay their bills to Spokane County are going to get a little more flexibility in payments in a change that may help some people avoid foreclosures for unpaid bills.

County officials this week said they are now accepting partial payments, which will be especially useful for homeowners who find themselves behind on their bills.

Maureen Ades, office manager for the county utilities division, said customers previously were required to pay off the full balances on their accounts. Otherwise, the county could not accept the payments.

Now, customers with delinquent accounts can catch up with regular payments rather than in a single lump sum, officials said.

If a sewer bill remains unpaid for long enough, the county can move to place a lien against the home and then go to foreclosure if the account continues in delinquency.

Last year for the first time, the county moved to foreclose on properties, but succeeded in getting accounts paid up. Foreclosure action increases the balance to the delinquent owners.

The county is in the middle of an effort to analyze how it is serving the public with staff being empowered to devise new ways to improve service and reduce costs. The work is being done under adoption of “Lean” values that were originally developed by Toyota.

Chief Operating Officer John Dickson is heading the effort based on his experience at Boeing and in state government.

County commissioners were told on Tuesday that the change to accept partial utility payments is one of 14 separate Lean projects in the utilities division. At the same time, all county services are undertaking their own Lean projects.

Employees are reporting that the exercises are increasing their job satisfaction because they personally empower them to make collaborative changes to help the public.


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