More than $500,000 in unpaid Yakima utility bills

More than $500,000 in unpaid Yakima utility bills
YAKIMA, Wash. -- KIMA learned the city of Yakima expects to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars because some people refuse to pay their utility bills. It might be the price of doing business. But, you're the one who feels the effect.

Most see it as part of life. Paying the bills, even when money is tight.

Travis Heine is paid in full, but admits his memory is not perfect.

"They're good at reminding you," said Heine. "They send you a couple notices. Eventually you get a little notice on you door. I've gotten a few of those before."

He's never had his water shut off, but that's usually the city's next step.

"If they get delinquent enough on the account, we'll go out and suspend service so they won't have water til they pay their bill," said Yakima Utility Services Director, Pete Hobbs.

But sometimes, that's still not enough. In 2012 nearly 6,000 people didn't pay up. That amounts to $515,923 in bills. Yakima sent those accounts to collections, but only got back $140,595.

It is an improvement though. After more enforcement and a stricter payment schedule, collections are up about 12 percent from 2011.

"We are receiving about 30 percent of what we turn over to them," said Hobbs.

We asked, "And the the other 70%?"

"That's people who declared bankruptcy," answered Hobbs. "Those are written off. And people who have died."

The city must absorb that 70 percent. But it turns out, you pay for it in pumped up utility bills.

Yakima says it's still actively working to improve the system. Adding online bill payments as an option and sending text or email alerts.

Still, the city is certain for as long as bills exist, so will people who avoid them.

"I think with any bill, you're going to have people that skate on it for as long as they can," said Heine.

A bill you're stuck with in the end.

Yakima plans for some delinquent accounts. The city assumes 1-2% of all customers will never paying their bill.