City might nix hang tag notifications

Photo by Mindy Stone

Photo by Mindy Stone

COVINGTON -- City of Covington utility customers who are behind on their bills probably won't be getting notified by hang tags anymore.

The City Council is considering abolishing its practice of placing hang tags on the doors of customers who are facing utility cutoffs. Instead, they will be notified by an automated dial phone system that will notify them of how many days they have to pay the bill before cutoff, Human Resources Director Ronnie Cowan told the council Monday night. Snapping Shoals and Georgia Power already use that method, he said. The new system will free up meter readers, who often spend a full eight-hour day placing hang tags, to perform their other duties, Cowan said.

The current ordinance requires notification via hang tag or U.S. mail, so the change would require an ordinance amendment. City Manager Steve Horton pointed out that not all customers may have a phone and recommended keeping the postal service as a notification option. The council agreed to have City Attorney Ed Crudup work on the ordinance revision and bring it before them at a later date.

In other news, city officials are also considering implementing a policy requiring that all utilities be cut on or off at the same time. An internal audit has revealed the city is losing money on customers who are receiving but not paying for services, Cowan said.

This often happens when a landlord asks for electricity in order to renovate a building, and a contractor doing the work needs water and then turns it on illegally, Cowan said. The landlord then claims he didn't authorize the water turned on and doesn't pay the bill. As much as 10,000 gallons of water at a time have been lost to this sort of activity.

"We're trying to operate as lean as possible. We can't continue to subsidize those who abuse the system," said Mayor Kim Carter.

Councilman Chris Smith said requiring all utilities to be cut on will penalize customers who obey the law. But Horton noted that those people wind up footing the bill anyway. "We buy water from the county and pay them every month whether the tenant pays for it or not ... the rest of the public is still paying for it," Horton said.

Cowan said he will meet with landlords before the policy goes into effect.