Firms That Pay Late Still Have Power

Source: Austin American Statesman
Date: January 2, 1994

More than 100 companies, agencies delinquent in utility bills - some for more than $65,000

More than 100 companies and government agencies owe delinquent City of Austin utility bills exceeding $5,000 each but continue to receive service, according to city records.

Half are county, state and school district accounts. The rest are private entities ranging from the Church of Scientology to large property-management companies.

The total past-due balance for accounts over $500 is $32 million, according to city reports for November. About 20 percent is owed by active customers still receiving service.

The City of Austin owns and operates electric, water-sewer, solid waste and drainage utilities.

Many of the delinquent customers consistently pay late or pay less than the amount due, maintaining large delinquencies but paying enough to keep the lights on, city officials say. Some billings are in dispute.

The city considers an account delinquent if it is unpaid after the due date, which is about a month after the billing period and usually two to three weeks after the customer receives the bill.

Unpaid bills penalize all customers, said Betty Dunkerley, city finance director. Late accounts tie up the utilities' money, she said, and unpaid ones mean everybody else pays a little more.

"It's an expense that the rest of the ratepayers in the system have to absorb," she said.

The average balance of the largest delinquent active accounts - those owing more than $5,000 - is $15,161. Those accounts total $1.9 million, and almost half are more than 90 days past due, records show.

The Church of Scientology, which owns a commercial building near the University of Texas, is among the top nongovernmental delinquent accounts, owing the city $65,106 as of last week.


Two large delinquencies illustrate different kinds of past-due accounts, Pulliam said.

In the case of the Crow company, the overdue amount has been in dispute for years and the company pays its current bills on time, she said. The Church of Scientology, Pulliam said, has been behind for years.


At the Church of Scientology, public affairs director Cathy Norman said the organization intends to pay its past-due amount.

"It's kind of a long-term situation," she said. "We got behind some time ago and we've been catching up gradually."

The church paid more than $17,000 in November, records show. Its bills run about $8,000 monthly.

The building at 2200 Guadalupe St. houses church activities and several retail tenants, Norman said. Among reasons for falling behind, she said, was that rental income declined in the summer of 1989 when air-conditioning equipment had to be replaced.

Pulliam described the Church of Scientology as a problem customer.

"They've been on some kind of a payment agreement since 1985," she said. "They know the system. They know they can give us $6,000 and we have to leave the service on."


Highest Delinquent City Utility Accounts

The City of Austin's Utility Customer Service Office lists almost 31,000 customers with delinquent accounts exceeding $500, for a total of $32 million.

The following information is from an computer printout dated dated Nov. 30, 1993, listing accounts with delinquencies exceeding $10,000. Some balances have changed since the report was compiled.

Except where indicated, all accounts show an unpaid balance over 90 days old.

In general, utility officials say many active customers with delinquent balances are paying part or all of their bills but paying late. Some have entered into a deferred payment agreement to clear delinquencies.

Some balances are in dispute.

In the case of governmental accounts - state agencies and schools, for example - payments often are late because of verification requirements but the bills generally are paid, utility officials say. The Austin Independent School District has separate accounts for individual facilities.

Active accounts are for customers still receiving bills; most active customers still are receiving service. Inactive accounts are closed and service has been discontinued.Figures are rounded to the nearest dollar.


1. Trammell Inc. $65,071 [Table] 2. Latham, Lloyd 62,094 3. Church of Scientology 49,117 4. Crockett Properties 30,639 5. Walmart Inc.* 28,464 6. Kingston Tideland Ltd. Part. 28,028 7. Economy Furniture* 27,110 8. Valdez, Pete IV** 23,994 9. Saint James 21,977 10. Fairway Village Apts.* 20,742

*No balance over 59 days overdue. **$270 balance over 60 days overdue; none over 90 days.

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