News 5 Guardians

Dec 2, 2013 11:40 AM by Andy Koen

News 5 Guardians: More sewer billing errors

EL PASO COUNTY - Dozens of people in Peyton will have to pay higher property taxes next year now that a local water district asked the County Treasurer collect on unpaid sewer fees and late charges. When News 5 Investigates sorted through those debts, we found many people who had no idea they owed money because they'd never gotten a bill.

In total, the treasurer will collect $25,233.06 from 18 property owners to pay debts owed to the Woodmen Hills Metropolitan District. News 5 Investigates reached out to property owners listed on the delinquent fees list and met Raymond Kenning.

"It's surprising because I've never even heard of them," he told us. "I've never received any kind of bill, no collection notice or anything."

Raymond's story sounded familiar. In an early investigative report, News 5 detailed how Pamela Potter was sent a hasty collection notice from Woodmen Hills last week for unpaid fees and late charges.

Like Pamela, Raymond lives in a water district outside of Woodmen Hills and had never received a bill from the district. In fact, Raymond says he never received a collection notice and only learned of the debt when News 5 contacted him.

"It's not a good way to do business," he said. "At least send me a bill and let me know what it is you're billing me for."

Woodmen Hills controls the only the wastewater treatment plant in the area. Ownership was previously shared the Paint Brush Hills Metro District when in 2009 Woodmen Hills sued over expenses tied to increasing capacity at the plant.

Woodmen Hills took control of the plant as part of a settlement reached in 2011 and also took over the obligation of billing the Paint Brush Hills customers.

Raymond is a Paint Brush Hills customer. Pamela is a customer of Falcon Highlands Metro District. We asked Woodmen Hills Metro board secretary Alfred Kreps about the missing bills.

"I just want everybody to know that now that we're aware of these situations, the office is going to review them, I'm going to work with them to help do that review," he said.

As it turns out, Raymond's bills were incorrectly sent to an address in Oklahoma City. Kreps says the collection letter should have been mailed to both the Oklahoma address and to Raymond's home in Peyton.

As for Pamela's account, Kreps said, "for some reason the name on that property remained under the old owner's name."

When the post office returned the bills in late 2011, the district simply began collecting late fees without bothering to locate the owner of the house.

"I was told by the parties that are doing this that they were told, 'Don't worry about it because it can be applied to their real estate taxes if they don't pay,'" Kreps explained.

He says the district no longer conducts their business that way and that employees are implementing new procedures for debt collection and customer service.

The treasurer must collect on the debts in total. So, it's impossible to wave the late fees already assessed.

Kreps said customers like Raymond and Pamela can get a credit on future bills up to the amount of the late fees previously collected. However, all billing errors will need to be reviewed in order to find fault with the district's handling of the accounts.

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