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Bedford to crack down on late payments

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By Dave Taylor

Bedford residents who are delinquent in paying their sewer bills may soon find the city playing “hardball.” The subject of delinquent sewer payments is a recurrent theme of discussion at the monthly meetings of the Bedford City Commission.

Mayor Russell Clifton told the commissioners that City Clerk Joyce Teague battles with the issue on a regular basis of city sewer customers making only partial payments of what is due to the city and some continue to run behind each month.

“I don’t like this junk—I don’t care who it is—of coming in and saying, ‘Here, I’ve got $10 to pay on my sewer bill,’ but they owe $80, ‘but I’ll be in with the rest later.’ What that is doing is creating work for Joyce. It’s putting her in a bad position,” he said.

Clifton said he would like the city to stop the policy of accepting partial payment. “You pay your bill in full or we’re shutting it off. We’ve got to play hard ball, boys, the economy dictates it.”

Teague said there are between 10 to 15 customers she has to call with a reminder each month.

“You are not in my shoes, you do not take the payments and you do not talk to these people, you do not hear what I hear,” Teague told the commissioners. “You can tell me what to do but when I get out there and I’m going to turn off somebody that has five kids and they’re struggling I want you to think about that and tell me what to do.”

“Joyce done it because she had feelings for them,” Commissioner Darrell Harmon said of Teague accepting partial payments and delaying the shutoff of water service.

“Her heart is as big as this room,” Clifton said of Teague, “but I’m seeing facts and reality. We’ve got to run this as a business because it is a business.”

Commissioner Todd Pollock said there’s a fine line “where we’ve got to have some compassion.”

“I disagree with giving extensions,” Commissioner Frank Floyd said. “I don’t think we need to be making reminder phone calls either.”

Clifton said he understands compassion where it is warranted but he has observed some city residents buying beer and lottery tickets who then turn around and say they cannot pay their sewer bill on time.

“If you call down here whining that you can’t pay it and I see you standing in line at Fast Stop buying $100 worth of lottery tickets, which is more important? If a person is going to do that they don’t need our help,” Clifton said. “They need to be shut off!”

The city agreed to enforce the billing system and will refuse partial payments. Payments each month must be paid within 30 days or the customer’s water service will be disconnected.

Property cleanup

Brenda McDowell, who owns several rental properties in the city approached the commissioners with concerns over unkempt properties in Bedford. She inquired if the city has ordinances in place to force property owners to keep their property cleaned up. She said a number of properties are “absolutely awful” with trash, junk and old trailers.

“If you can’t get landowners to clean them up, fine them because you sure can use the money,” she said. “I live in Milton right now but I’d like to move back to Bedford, but if it’s all going to fall apart like a lot of these yards it’s absolutely awful. If you have ordinances you need to enforce them and you can’t back down no matter who it is.”  

Commissioner Harold Greene said the city has instructed Constable Craig Lacefield to place red tags of warning on properties that need attention.

“After so many then (City Attorney) Genon (Hensley) is supposed to take them to court,” he said.

“Have you ever taken anybody to court?” McDowell asked. “I believe if you start taking them to court maybe that’ll wake the rest of them up. I don’t intend for this to sound mean but we’re getting such a low class of people with drugs and so many dogs in this town.”

“The statutes require in every county that enforcement of laws concerning dogs that is the responsibility of fiscal court,” Hensley said.

“I do appreciate your concern and if you’ll give us time I think you’ll see some changes,” Mayor Russell Clifton said.