Not paying a stormwater utility fee in Columbia County could cause a drain on some residents' paychecks.
The county's waterworks department now can garnishee wages to collect on delinquent stormwater utility fee accounts, after commissioners recently approved a new collection policy.
Billy Clayton, the county's waterworks director, said the measure would likely be used in cases involving large sums long overdue and that there would be a cost for such a collection process.
However, he said it also could apply to cases in which a person has repeatedly not paid, even after a court judgement. He said the county can place a lien on someone's property, but that lien could stay on the property for an extended time while the county continues to receive nothing.
Garnishing wages "could be used as a tool to convince you that you need to come on and pay,'' Mr. Clayton said.
He said that in the past 14 months, his department has been aggressively pursuing in court people he calls the worst offenders, those who have been delinquent for four or five years.
The fee, which is about $4 a month for the average property owner, is charged based on the amount of impervious surface a property has - an area water does not seep into.
Mr. Clayton said that of the worst offenders, 117 out of 150 have been pursued through court. The other 33 paid their fee out of court. He said that of the people taken to court, 38 have still not paid.
He said that each year about 4 percent of the county's 29,122 waterworks accounts are delinquent on their stormwater utility fee.
Mr. Clayton said wage garnishment isn't meant to bring a hardship on anyone, "but we do have obligations because everybody else is paying.''
Some who aren't paying own several properties and have larger bills, but most owe $2 to $4 a month, Mr. Clayton said.
Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BY THE NUMBERS
117: People delinquent on their stormwater utility fee bill who have been pursued in court in the past 14 months
29,122: Waterworks accounts
4: Percentage of total accounts delinquent on the fee (about 1,100)
$4: Average monthly stormwater fee
Source: Columbia County's Waterworks Department