Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Ludlow trying to remedy water woes

City tardy collecting old bills

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LUDLOW — After months of struggling to stop the flow of red ink in a water department that's lost money three of the past four years — including $80,000 in the fiscal year just ended — city officials now say they're making progress in solving the problem.

        Two months ago, records obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer showed the Ludlow water department was in disarray.

        Records from April 7, the most recent available, showed that 29 percent of Ludlow's 1,700 water users had delinquent bills, including many dating back several years.

        City officials also said in September that they had not sent shut-off notices to delinquent water customers in nearly two years, despite outstanding delinquencies of $63,574.

        Because the city was behind in posting cash balances to its water and waste fund, Ludlow officials said there was no way to determine the extent of the problem.

        Ludlow retiree Ed Schroeder, who ran the Kenton circuit clerk's office for 18 years, said that he and four other residents with business backgrounds recently volunteered “to do whatever was needed” in the city offices, so that paid staff could get the bills caught up.

        “I paid my last water bill the end of April, or early May, and (the canceled check) came back in July,” Mr. Schroeder said. “Whether they just don't have the help to get the work done, I don't know — but I don't think anybody's check should lie around that long.”

        Ludlow officials say they have taken the following steps to remedy the problem:

        • Starting at the end of November, for the next three months, the city plans to bill the water system's 1,700 customers for the past three quarters.

        “We haven't sent out a water bill for February to May, or June to August, or the September to November period,” Ludlow Clerk-Treasurer Richard Abney said. “We're going to be sending those out back to back.”

        While pleased that the city is trying to get caught up on its billing, Mr. Schroeder said that many residents, especially senior citizens, are worried about getting a number of bills at once.

        Because the three quarterly bills are being sent out late and only a month apart, users will have extra time to pay them without penalty, and water customers with a true hardship can contact the city building for help, Mr. Abney said.

        He also plans to send out three quarters of fire and garbage bills this week. Mr. Abney said residents will have 30 days to pay them without penalty, instead of the usual 14 days.

        • Authorizing the clerk-treasurer to work overtime, so that the city can get caught up in posting cash balances to its water and waste fund.

        Mr. Abney said he recently deposited $12,000 in the city's water account. He attributed some of the delays in posting cash balances to Ludlow's water and waste fund to checks that didn't clearly reference what bills they were paying.

        Earlier this year, Mr. Abney said, he was diverted from his bookkeeping duties by numerous public records requests from the media, city officials and lawyers involved in a yet-unresolved grand jury investigation of the Ludlow Fire Department and its charitable bingo games.

        “As long as there aren't a lot of requests made for information, or we don't have to fulfill any legal obligations, we should be able to get caught up,” said Ludlow Mayor Tom Stacy.

        • About 11/2 months ago, the city sent out 207 shut-off notices to water customers — the first in nearly two years — Mr. Abney said. “In about half of those, the payments crossed the shut-off notices in the mail,” he said.

        • Ludlow is negotiating the possible transfer of its water department to the Northern Kentucky Water Service District.


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