Livingston Parish to collect $589,000 in unpaid utility bills

LIVINGSTON PARISH, LA (WAFB) - The free ride is over for hundreds of people in Livingston Parish. Leaders say hundreds of people there haven't been paying their utility bills for years.  But now, there's a plan for the parish to recoup hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"You can't not pay anything," said Parish President Layton Ricks.

Ricks and Financial Director Jennifer Meyers have been looking through 38 pages of overdue accounts.

"This person not paid sewer or water," said Meyers, looking over one of the bills. "The total balance is $5,400."

It's something Ricks says came to his attention when he took office in 2011, when $450,000 was transferred from the parish's general account, to the utility account to cover unpaid bills.

"We have $589,000. That was our allowance for uncollectable accounts," Meyers said. She added there are a total of 331 delinquent accounts.

Those unpaid bills are for water and sewer, in some of the rural areas of the parish, such as parts of Springfield, and around Albany.

Meyers says she thinks once people found out there was no penalty for non-payment - it didn't take long for entire neighborhoods to quit paying.

"Could either put a lien on property at cost to $75 per address or dig up line and cap it off," said Meyers She said that would have cost the parish even more money.

But leaders are about to start getting it back.

Several council members approached the French Settlement Water Company to take over collecting what's owed to the parish. Ricks says they have entered into a two year cooperative agreement, and French Settlement will be going after those who need to pay up.

He adds, this agreement also saves the parish thousands for another reason.

"DHH is requiring that you have a back up well. French Settlement Water will install that well - that's $200,000 to $300,000 parish would have had to come up with."

Bottom line, Ricks says, paying zero is no longer an option.

Letters from the parish and from French Settlement will be sent out starting in May.

Copyright 2013 WAFB. All rights reserved.