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Delinquent utility accounts to be written off

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By Jennifer Garcia

Debt collection is no easy task, not even for the county of Los Alamos. The Department of Public Utilities has tried to collect roughly $30,000 in unpaid debt to no avail.

After unsuccessfully attempting to collect the money owed to them, the DPU is now ready to move forward and write-off those accounts. During Tuesday night’s county council meeting, councilors approved the write-offs.

The meeting moved swiftly, with only one business item on the agenda, however there were many consent agenda items. Most were approved quickly, with a single motion, except for three, which were pulled off the consent agenda and placed on the business agenda by Councilor Vincent Chiravalle.

The following consent agenda items were placed on the business agenda:

•    Incorporated County of Los Alamos Resolution No. 09-14; a resolution removing uncollectible utility accounts from the accounts receivable list of Los Alamos County.

•    Consolidated proposed action of Incorporated County of Los Alamos Resolutions No. 09-11, 09-12 and 09-13; resolutions of support for county participation in the 2009/2010 New Mexico Department of Transportation Local Government Road Fund for pavement rehabilitation/improvements of various county roads in Los Alamos, under the County Arterial Program, the Cooperative Agreement Program and the School Bus Route Program.

•    Incorporated County of Los Alamos Resolution No. 09-15; a resolution of support by Los Alamos County for a grant application to the New Mexico Economic Development Department by the Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation for Los Alamos MainStreet Program Projects, including development of a cultural plan for the Los Alamos Arts and Cultural District.

Deputy Utilities Manager of Finance Janet Bettinger spoke to council regarding the uncollectible utility accounts. She said the county was in the process of hiring a collection agency that would attempt to collect approximately $30,000 of debt from various utility customers. She also said the accounts would be written off and removed from county books. “It reduces our old receivables and makes us look better financially,” she pointed out.

Chiravalle however was not convinced that write-offs were the best approach for the delinquent accounts. “I feel it’s more accurate to keep these uncollectible accounts on our books. By doing so, we’re letting the public know there’s $30,000 of uncollected debt. I don’t think it serves the public well. If we want to be accurate, we need to have them on our books so the public knows about it,” he commented.

However, Councilor Robert Gibson seemed to see things a bit differently. “The way I look at it, we really gain accuracy or more realism in our accounting statements, because the reality is that we will probably never collect on these,” he said of the write-offs.

Chiravalle was not convinced though. “We do have a reasonable chance of collecting the money, just because they leave Los Alamos County, they don’t fall off the end of the Earth,” he commented.

Councilor Sharon Stover agreed with Gibson’s statement and said she knows at least one person on the delinquent list. “He’s deceased and he left nothing,” she pointed out, making clear that not every account can be collected.

Stover then made a motion to remove the accounts from the county’s accounts receivables list. The motion was seconded by Councilor Ralph Phelps and passed 4-1, with Chiravalle voting against it.

Discussion on the other two consent agenda items was brief. Gibson moved, seconded by Phelps that “council adopt Incorporated County of Los Alamos Resolution no. 09-11, 09-12 and 09-13; resolutions of support for county participation in the 2009/2010 New Mexico Department of Transportation Local Government Road Fund for Pavement Rehabilitation/Improvements of various county roads in Los Alamos, New Mexico under the County Arterial Program, the Cooperative Agreement Program and the School Bus Route Program.” That motion passed 4-1, with Chiravalle voting against it.

The last consent agenda item was briefly discussed, as well. Phelps moved, seconded by Stover, “to amend Resolution No. 09-15 by amending the title to read as follows: A resolution of support by Los Alamos County for a grant application to the New Mexico Economic Development Department by Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation for the Los Alamos MainStreet Program Project to develop a cultural plan for the Los Alamos Arts and Cultural District. And further moved to delete the 4th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th whereas paragraphs from Resolution 09-15.” That motion passed 5-0.

Phelps then moved, seconded by Gibson, “that council adopt Resolution 09-15, as amended: A resolution of support by Los Alamos County for a grant application to the New Mexico Economic Development Department by Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation for the Los Alamos MainStreet Program Project to develop a cultural plan for the Los Alamos Arts and Cultural District.” That motion also passed 5-0.