City of Norwich and utility officials resolve sewer assessment billing issue

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Norwich ― Almost three years after buying his house at 54 Lambert Drive, Allen Pope was surprised to receive a letter from Norwich Public Utilities regarding overdue sewer assessment fees, with 18% penalty interest.

Kelly Hajduk of 27 Flyers Drive received a similar letter regarding a sewer assessment fee she said should have been paid in 2009 when she purchased the home. Hajduk, a resident with a disability, said the $10,000 overdue bill “equals half of my income.”

“It wasn’t my bill initially,” Hajduk said. “If it was, I would have paid for it.”

The two residents spoke at Monday’s city council public hearing on an order waiving sewer assessment interest penalties for 133 residents who owe $1.2 million in total assessments, including 647,763 $ in outstanding balances.

NPU officials told the city council that the bills slipped in several ways. Some have not been repaid as they should be when the properties are sold. Some landlords have failed to keep up with payments, and “NPU’s collection efforts have been inconsistent” over the years.

Now NPU is closing 20-year bonds used to pay for sewer projects and needs payments.

Because some of the overdue bills weren’t the owners’ fault, the city utility on Monday asked the city council to pass an ordinance waiving penalty interest on due assessments and allowing customers to extend rental plans. payment for 10 years. Initial assessments were spread out over 20 years, but state law allows up to 30 years to pay for sewer assessments, said NPU attorney Joe Szerejko of the law firm Murtha Cullina.

The ratings were applied to all properties where new sewer lines were built in the neighborhoods, whether they were single-family homes connected to the line. Liens were placed on the properties to be lifted after the assessments were paid.

Szerejko said that typically the assessment is paid when the property is sold and the utility is transferred to the new owner.

“That hasn’t happened with a lot of these properties that have been sold,” Szerejko said.

The council unanimously approved the ordinance, along with a second ordinance authorizing sewer assessment payment plans for elderly residents and residents with disabilities, similar to property tax payment plans.

Pope said he was aware of the sewer assessment when he moved into his home 33 months ago, but mistakenly believed it would be part of his property tax bills. He said NPU never informed him that the bills were overdue until August.

“Thirty-three months seems like an unusual length of time to let anyone know they’re in default on any kind of financial obligation,” Pope told the city council.

He said he called NPU and learned there was no consistent process for getting the appraisal done on behalf of the new owner.

Hajduk said her assessment should have been paid in 2009, when she bought the house from her mother-in-law after her husband died. She said the transaction went through probate and the valuation should have been discovered through the legal process.

“To my surprise, I started receiving sewer ratings with interest,” Hajduk said. “I haven’t received notice on my behalf for at least several years.”

NPU spokesman Chris Riley said the order was an effort by the NPU to resolve the issues in a way that would be fair to those unaware of overdue invoices and to customers. who paid their dues on time.

According to a chart provided by NPU, 253 customers still had assessment balances due, totaling $1.2 million as of August, and 10 had made full payments as of September 15. Of the total, 133 were behind on payments due each year, with overdue balances totaling $647,763. Two customers paid these balances in full, totaling $22,724.

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