Thousands in Yakima aren't paying utility bills

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Thousands of people here in Yakima aren't paying the city on time for their utility bill. That's hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be lost forever. It's taxpayer money the city could use.

More than 2,000 customers chased by collections this year. Unpaid water, wastewater and garbage bills owed to the City of Yakima.

So far this year, collections has recovered almost $100,000. But, some money is never paid.

Tracy Ault lives in Yakima.

"It bothers me, but you have to expect it."

Yakima's Finance Director, Cindy Epperson, agrees. But, the city also plans for this loss.

"The budgets are built assuming we're not going to collect every dollar we bill."

In fact, unpaid bills account for less than one percent of the total billed by Yakima to its customers. But, that's also $200,000 not able to be re-invested into the city.

Epperson says that's par for the course. It still doesn't sit well with neighbors who actually pay.

"I guess it bothers me a little because you know, everybody should work hard and take care of themselves," said Ault. "But, I understand if people can't pay, they just can't pay."

Epperson says Yakima sent almost $200,000 worth of bills to collections this year. Yakima is switching collection agencies and sending fewer bills to collections during the transition.

Ault's suggestion for cutting down the number of delinquent accounts?

"Maybe have co-signers when people sign up for utilities, so they can go after someone else."

There's no indication the city plans to take that step.

Yakima's City Council wrote off more than $230,000 in unpaid utility bills at the last meeting. That covered uncollectible accounts from bankrupt and deceased customers as well as bills older than six years.