City writes off nearly $500,000 in bad debts

Published 5:21 pm Thursday, July 11, 2013

The City of Washington has written off nearly $500,000 in bad debts.

Following the its policy for uncollectable accounts receivable, which calls for bad debts to be taken off the books after a specified period of time, the city wrote off bad debts in 10 categories. The total of those bad debts comes to $491,458.75.

Unpaid emergency medical services charges — mostly for ambulance service — accounted for $355,340.09 of that total. The next-highest amount was for $79,829.74 in unpaid utilities charges.

Those two amounts drew the attention of Councilman Doug Mercer at the City Council’s July 1 meeting.

“I was somewhat surprised when I saw a very substantial write-off … for EMS services. My memory is not as good as it should be sometimes, but if I recall we wrote off well over a million dollars in EMS funds last year, and we are proposing to write off another $350,000 this year,” Mercer said.

Mercer also expressed concern over writing off $79,000 in unpaid utilities charges. He asked if the city has a policy regarding people with unpaid utilities charges who try to establish new utilities services with the city.

Matt Rauschenbach, the city’s chief financial officer and assistant city manager, said such people are required to pay those outstanding charges before the city provides them with utilities services.

In the assessments category, the city wrote off $32,325.06. In the building demolition category, the city wrote off $12,387.50. The smallest amounts written off were $50 in overdue solid-waste fees and $50 in the stormwater fund (miscellaneous).

Among the remaining write-offs is $5,195 for lot mowing, which the city does when lot owners do not mow lots.

“Lot-mowing, demolition and assessment liens that were previously placed against properties remain in place with the hopes that if the property is ever sold, the City will collect proceeds from the sale to satisfy the debt,” reads a memorandum from Rauschenbach to the mayor and City Council.

The city uses several collection methods to obtain payment on the outstanding debts, but writes off those bad debts after certain criteria are met. After 10 years, unpaid assessments are written off. After five years, unpaid EMS charges, utilities charges, building-building demolition charges and other fees and charges are removed from the city’s financial books.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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