06-14 jim mahoney-01

Palestine Finance Director Jim Mahoney

The city likely will back off a plan to penalize some customers for not paying their water bills on time, after failing to notify residents of a billing cycle change.

City Finance Director Jim Mahoney told the Herald-Press last week that water bill refunds would be contingent on payment histories – a plan the mayor and at least some council members oppose.

“We have to treat everyone equally – period,” Mayor Steve Presley told the Herald-Press Monday. Presley said city council members would discuss the matter at their Monday night meeting next week in council chambers, 504 N. Queen St., starting at 5:30 p.m.

A billing change is a policy matter under council's purview, Presley said.

“It's just good customer service to notify people when we make a change in our billing process,” he said. “We should notify people a month or two in advance, so that they can think it through and make adjustments.”

Last week, the city turned off some residents' water, after moving up the payment date for utilities, without informing the public. Mahoney said he moved the billing cycle from 30 days to 20 days to comply with city ordinance.

Without notification, however, residents who typically pay their bills on the first of the month became delinquent without knowing it. Some incurred late fees; others, temporarily lost their water.

Mahoney said residents who have never been disconnected would be eligible to have late or re-connect charges removed, or have payments credited toward next month's bill.

 “Habitual offenders,” however, would not get the same break, he said. That angered some city residents, as well as Councilman Mitchell Jordan, who noted water is a necessity.

“There are people who struggle to pay their water bill every month and people who don't,” Mitchell said.  “The city made a mistake, and the city should fix it for everyone.”

Overall, Presley and Jordan praised Mahoney, who became the city's finance director in April.

He's working hard to make sure (city employees) follow the rules and are held accountable,” Presley said. “It's going to save taxpayers money.”

Mahoney did not return phone calls from the Herald-Press.

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