Inside Your Town

Lower Mac Twp. ready to pull the plug on those who don't pay sewer bills

LOWER MACUNGIE TWP., Pa. - Residents of more than 200 homes in Lower Macungie Township, Lehigh County, will have their water shut off if they don't pay their sewer bills before Nov. 28.

Those residents owe the township more than $350,000 in unpaid bills.

"There will be more," said township manager Bruce Fosselman. "This is our first phase. These are the worst offenders. Some people owe thousands of dollars."

The water will be shut off by Lehigh County Authority, which supplies water to the homes and has an agreement with the township to do shut-offs if people are delinquent in paying their sewer bills. Fossselman explained the township owns the sewerage system, but LCA provides water.

Lower Macungie officials hope others who are delinquent but have not yet received shut-off notices will realize the township also will be coming after them and pay up.

If LCA shuts off the water, in addition to paying their sewer bills to the township those homeowners have to pay LCA $80 to have the water turned back on.

"It's a double whammy," Fosselman said. He said those facing shut-offs have known about it for a long time and received many previous warnings. "They are giving us every excuse," said Fosselman. "These people knew well in advance," he said. "Their day of reckoning soon will be here."

Lower Macungie commissioners were surprised by the high numbers of potential shut-offs reported at Thursday night's meeting by Cassandra Williams, the township's finance director.

As one commissioner let out an incredulous whistle, president Ron Eichenberg said he was shocked by the high number of homes with delinquent sewer bills.

Williams said on Monday and Tuesday, Accounts Recovery Bureau (ARB) placed door hangers on the homes to advise residents of the impending shut-offs. She said all those homeowners also were sent letters advising them that they have 10 days to respond with a payment.

"Nov. 28, their water will be shut off," Fosselman told commissioners. "That's it. We're not crying wolf anymore."

Eichenberg said those 200 homeowners have to pay or set up a payment schedule with ARB before Nov. 28. If they do nothing and their water is shut off, he said they have to make a cash payment for the entire amount they owe.

In addition to recovering money owed, including late fees and fines, the company will collect a 20 percent fee from those who have not paid their bills.

Since those homes were tagged with shut-off notices, Fosselman and Williams said they are getting many calls from people who face losing their water service.

Williams said some claim they thought both their sewer and trash fees were included in their mortgage payments. That generated laughter from commissioners.

"We've heard every story you can think of," said Fosselman.

Last spring, Lower Macungie hired Reading-based ARB to collect its delinquent sewer and refuse payments. At that time, Fosselman warned: "They have the hammer and they will shut your water off."

On Thursday, Commissioner James Lancsek said similar steps have been taken in surrounding communities "and it's been very successful." Many residents were getting delinquent notices even before ARB was hired.

Initially, township officials were disappointed that ARB was not moving quickly enough to collect money owed.

But on Thursday, Fosselman said: "We're very pleased that this is going on. We've done what we needed to do."

Williams told commissioners that, as of Oct. 31, ARB has sent the township $80,573, which it collected before the shut-off notices were placed at homes. "Very good," said Eichenberg.

With no questions or comments from the public, commissioners unanimously approved two major new ordinances. One regulates tree harvesting in the township, the other regulates open burning and other outdoor fires.

Also during the meeting, commissioners received a detailed briefing from developers of the Hamilton Crossings shopping center, which is planned on both sides of Krocks Road between Hamilton Boulevard and the Route 222 bypass. That shopping center's anchor stores will be Costco and Target, but the 63-acre site will have up to 30 stores.

The briefing focused on variances that will be sought on Nov. 27 from the Lower Macungie Zoning Hearing Board. Although the township planning commission has not yet made recommendations about the project to commissioners, the commissioners voted to send at least one representative to the zoning hearing board to support the variance relief being sought by the developers.

Maury Robert, vice president of the planning commission, said the developers came to the planning commission with their zoning variance requests for the first time on Tuesday night. That meeting lasted two hours. The planning commission will meet again next Tuesday. Commissioners promised to consult with the planning commission before the zoning hearing board meeting.

The Hamilton Crossings project may still be a year away from getting final township approval.

Commissioners gave preliminary/final approval for Faith Evangelical Free Church at 6528 Hamilton Blvd. to replace some temporary buildings with a three-story Children & Student Building addition that will have a total square footage of 40,500 feet.

It will be built near Mill Creek Road behind the existing sanctuary. If the congregation approves the project early next year, a fund-raising stewardship campaign will begin. Officials hope construction will start in 2013. The building will take up to 12 months to complete. Eventually, the congregation also hopes to build a new sanctuary, said township planning director Sara Pandl.

Commissioners agreed to hire township-based Hanover Engineering Associates, Inc., to serve as its "conflict engineer" on those rare occasions when Keystone Consulting Engineers, which provides the township engineer, would be in the position of having to review its own development projects.

Lower Macungie intends to also hire a "conflict solicitor" if the township solicitor also might be in a potential conflict of interest situation.

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