Cleveland Division of Water slowly makes progress on $70 million in uncollected bills

New targeted effort is showing results, dept. says

CLEVELAND - The Cleveland Division of Water is reporting progress in all areas of its operation in the past six months. 

The water department claims customer service call wait times have dropped to an average of just 30 seconds, and improvements are being reported in collecting on thousands of delinquent accounts.

Last month, Department of Utilities Director Barry Withers told NewsChannel5 about the the water department's new focus in collecting bills that are more than two quarters behind in payment.

"This process is already showing signs of success, with nearly a million dollars collected as a result of these targeted efforts," said Withers. "As an example, one account holder, with over $2 million of delinquencies on multiple properties, has made nearly $500,000 in payments."

Withers or the Cleveland Division of Water would not give NewsChannel5 any further details on this new collection effort, instead reporting it would give a further progress update after the first of the year.

Back in July, our 5 On Your Side investigation showed 58,000 water accounts behind six months or more, totaling some $70 million. The massive amount of delinquent accounts left some Cleveland City Council members wondering what went wrong.

As part of a NewsChannel5 ongoing investigation, 5 On Your Side exclusively obtained a list of 3,750 water department customers who owe $3,000 or more. The list, collected from the Cleveland Department of Public Utilities, included accounts from Aug. 1, 2010 to Aug. 1, 2011 which were past due more than 180 days.

According to records from the Cleveland Department of Public Utilities, 5 On Your Side discovered 57 accounts behind more than $40,000.

Meanwhile, some water customers believe the water department should center its new collection efforts on large corporate offenders, instead of only going after "the little guy."

The water department is pursuing 70-year-old Inge Berg of Cleveland after she claimed her tenant failed to pay the water bill for nearly two years. Berg owes nearly $3,000 and reports the water department's collection agency agreed to a payment plan back in August. However, Berg claims the water department backed away from the payment plan without warning, and she's been told her water service will be shut-off if she doesn't pay in-full.

"I'm on Social Security, I get $1,500 a month," said Berg. "You made an agreement, you said $200 per month. I kept my bargain, you have not. I don't want these people to walk all over me."

The 5 On Your Side Troubleshooter Unit has reported Berg's case to water department headquarters. Berg believes she should be given a reasonable payment plan. According to water department records, large corporate accounts, like the K&D Group, which the water department reports owes more than $200,000, are being given payment plans.

According to water department records, K&D Group has been allowed to carry a big balance for more than one year.

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