Over $130,000 in utility bills went unpaid in 2012

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- Paying your bills can no doubt be a challenge when times are tight. People who can't afford to pay their utility bills are sticking them to the cities, which affects us all in the end. Unpaid bills for things like water, sewer and electricity ran into the six figures in the Tri-Cities last year.

Norma Mendoza came in during her lunch break to make sure she got her utility bill paid. The late notice was a surprise yesterday.

"I said, oh my goodness, as soon as I got it in the mail, I said, I'm coming straight in to pay it, I don't want to get in trouble," Norma tells KEPR.

This doesn't usually happen to her, though.

She continues, "Usually I am aware.. This time I just spaced it out. I didn't realize this was the notice."

Kennewick sends out late notices daily.. Reminding people with delinquent accounts to pay up.

"We'll send out a late notice, to let them know it's due and that also allows them more additional time," Evelyn Lusignan from the City of Kennewick explains.

But still, some people just don't pay.

"They do what they have to do. And we have to pay on time."

Last year, in Kennewick, $27,000 in bills for water, sewer, ambulance and storm water fees went unpaid. It's a lot, but it's less than1% of the city's total yearly billings. In Pasco, roughly $4,000 went unpaid for the same services. Richland is much higher; more than $100,000 in bills were unpaid. But Richland also provides electricity and garbage service as part of its city utilities.

These unpaid bills mean more money needed from you, the taxpayer, to keep these utilities running.

Evelyn says, "If you have uncollected accounts, then you have to raise rates for your good customers, so we don't want that to happen."

Kennewick offers layaway-style payment programs, and tries to offer a number of ways to pay conveniently. The city says that the numbers are improving and by offering more ways to pay, less bills are coming in late. And for Norma. It only took one notice to make sure she stays up on her payments.

"oh yes I am, I hope so," she says.

Action News also looked into these trends in Yakima. They have seen a big increase in unpaid bills, totaling more than half a million last year.