TAXPAYER DOLLARS: Bad debts total almost $800,000

TRI-CITIES - Unpaid utility bills and ambulance fees have racked up nearly a million dollars owed. The cities take on hundreds of thousands in debts. We looked at what this burden means for strapped budgets in our community.

It can be a payment to save your life -- or give you the ability to run your water. To keep this city running -- it's about paying up. Officials say bad debts could cause a burden for all of us.

"It could be less patching of roads, it could be fewer things done in the parks, fewer programs in recreation," said Pasco Administrative and Community Services Director Rick Terway.

Rick Terway represents the City of Pasco. He says that's only a possibility of not paying debts, it's not a current reality.

Together the cities turned over more than three-quarters of a million dollars to collections last year. Amounts owed to each city weren't a huge swing -- ranging from about $265,000 in Kennewick to $240,000 in Richland. Although the totals seem overwhelming -- some of the debts represent less than one-percent of total billings.

"Of the 99 million dollar budget, this is a small amount. So we don't really look at it," said Terway.

These totals were turned over to collection agencies for being grossly late. We broke down the bad debts by category to compare more apples-to-apples. Kennewick turned over $30,000 to collections for people who owed on utility bills. Pasco turned over just four-thousand. Richland stands at the largest amount -- only because it includes garbage and electric.

"Our bad debt for our utility has been going down over the past four years," said Terway.

In total, the cities turned over half a million dollars for people who owed on ambulance fees. It's an amount officials expect to rise.

"I think as the city's population ages, that you're going to see more transports, more activity," added Terway.

It's a mix of trends. Hoping to keep providing our services -- all the while, staying on top of our debt.

We also crunched the numbers of miscellaneous debts owed the city. Those debts add up to over $50,000.