Sandwich City Council considering proposal to increase water bill late fees

Sandwich, Illinois town sign

Sandwich city officials have noted an increase in late and unpaid water bills in recent years, complicated further by the COVID-19 pandemic during which the city could not shut off residents’ water regardless of payment status.

Now, the City Council is set to consider a plan to increase late fees on residents’ water bills from $10 to $20 or 20% of what is owed, whichever is higher, at their next meeting on Dec. 19.

City Administrator Geoff Penman described his plan to combat the large amount of unpaid water bills by increasing the late fees during a Dec. 5 City Council meeting.

“When that was put into the ordinance, $10 was a lot of money,” Penman said of the current late fee. “Now, it doesn’t carry the same weight, so we need to bump that up.”

Penman said part of the problem is that the city bills quarterly, and as rates have gone up, quarterly water bills have become less manageable.

Alderman Fred Kreinbrink suggested switching to a by-monthly collection system (every other month), but Penman said with the current staffing problems, they can barely keep up with the quarterly collections.

Penman suggested the implementation of an amnesty program, which would allow residents time after the holidays to come current with their bills before the new rates go into effect.

“We’re not looking to make money off of late fees, we’re just trying to recover some of our costs,” Penman said. “The last thing we want to do is hurt anybody.”

Under the amnesty program, residents behind on their bills will have the option of a payment plan in which they would have to pay 20% of their debt up front and have three months to pay off the rest.

Penman said if a payment is missed by a resident on a payment plan, water will be shut off within 24 hours.

“We’re going to have to be tough with it a little bit, which I really don’t like,” Penman said. “We’ve got some dollars sitting out there, and we need to know that they’re coming in and we have them available.”

Penman said if debtors aren’t in a payment plan or settled by April 1, the city would have to put a lean on their property, per city ordinance.

Penman also said the fee to shut off and turn on the water is currently set at $30, which he suggested be raised to $50.

Kreinbrink suggested dissolving the shut-off fee and combining the two into one large turn-on fee to cover the cost of labor and minimize added fees.

Kreinbrink also proposed a deposit program for rental properties so landlords don’t get stuck with the bill if a renter skips out without paying.