Auditors note delinquent sewer, garbage bills in Tangipahoa

Auditors are advising Tangipahoa Parish agencies to cut off sewer and garbage collection services on accounts that are four months or more overdue.

They said the Tangipahoa Parish Water District lost out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in uncollected water and sewer fees in the past two years.

The district was unable to collect about $229,000 in sewer and garbage fees in 2011 and $136,000 in 2010, according to the audit, released Monday by the state Legislative Auditor’s Office. Statistics on uncollected fees for 2012 were not available in the audit.

Phil Hebert, a certified public accountant from Ponchatoula, performed the audit under contract with the Legislative Auditor’s Office.

In 2011, the district brought in $4.7 million in revenue for its water services and spent about $3.4 million on the water system.

In 2012, the district collected $5.1 million in revenue and spent $3.3 million.

Auditors recommend the Tangipahoa Parish Water District contact the parish’s Sewer District No. 1 and Hammond to request they shut off accounts that are 120 days past due.

The audit says the Sewer District No. 1 and Hammond ultimately are responsible for implementing cut-off policies on delinquent accounts.

The Tangipahoa Parish Water District sends the Sewer District No. 1 and Hammond monthly reports detailing outstanding balances, but the management of the sewer district and Hammond have not authorized shutting down those past-due accounts, the audit says.

The Tangipahoa Parish Water District, created in 1992, provides water services to the southern region and portions of the northern region of the parish.

It was serving about 16,700 customers as of 2012.

The Tangipahoa Parish Water District only collects sewer and garbage fees for the parish Sewer District No. 1 and areas of Hammond, said Gary Clark, manager of district.

The Tangipahoa Parish Water District only provides water services, Clark said.

It does not provide sewer or garbage services.

“We bill and collect,” Clark said. “That’s all we do for them.”

Clark said the Tangipahoa Parish Water District can only cut off water services if bills go unpaid.

Officials of parish Sewerage District No. 1 are aware of the uncollected sewer fee issue, said James Harper, business manager for the district.

The district’s board of commissioners will discuss the issue at its regular meeting Monday. he said.

Sewerage District No. 1 has nothing to do with garbage collection, Harper added.

Hammond Mayor Mason Foster said some Hammond residents may live within the Tangipahoa Parish Water District and pay for their services instead.

In most cases, Foster said, Hammond residents pay for sewer, water and garbage services in a combined utility bill.

The city follows its delinquent utility payments closely and does not have a major problem with nonpayers, Foster said.

He said Hammond-area utility bills are shut off if not paid within 45 days.

“I would be very surprised” if there were many delinquent accounts, Foster said.