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MDC Alerts Hartford Mayor To $1.3 Million In Unpaid Water Bills, But City Pushes Back

Patrick Skahill
Connecticut Public Radio

The Metropolitan District Commission alleges that the city of Hartford and the Hartford Housing Authority owe more than $1.3 million combined in unpaid water bills, but both dispute the charges. And, in one case, the authority said it sent a check, which the MDC never cashed.

In a letter dated June 18, MDC CEO Scott Jellison and District Chairman William DiBella said about $816,000 of the past due balance is tied to city accounts and about $561,000 in overdue charges is tied to the Hartford Housing Authority.

“This is a significant past due balance,” the MDC wrote in the letter addressed to Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, “which negatively impacts the District’s cash flow, which in turn affects all our member towns.”

But both the city and the housing authority -- an agency that owns and manages developments that provide homes for lower-income families -- said they fundamentally disagree with the MDC’s assessment of the overdue charges. 

In fact, in one case, the authority said it wrote a check to the MDC, but the agency never did anything with it.

“We have reviewed our records and we have discovered that there is one substantial check that we issued in April, 2019, that was never cashed,” Annette Sanderson, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Hartford, said in an emailed statement.

“We have voided that check, and we have reissued a new check,” Sanderson said. “We will forward the new check as well as our current monthly payment to the MDC.”

The MDC said it would speak with the authority to see where it sent that check.

“I’m not saying it wasn’t sent. But we didn’t get it. Because we didn’t cash it,” said Christopher Stone, district counsel at the MDC.

Stone said that the MDC formerly used a post office box for bill payments but that the agency discontinued its use. “I don’t know if that may be the reason for the problem, but whatever the reason is, we didn’t get it. They sent it. We didn’t get it. And they’re willing to resend another check,” he said. “So that’s all good.”  

The MDC’s letter to Bronin was reported in June on the website of columnist and blogger Kevin Rennie.

The letter also outlines roughly $800,000 in overdue charges against the city of Hartford, which the mayor’s office responded to Thursday afternoon. 

“The bottom line is that we fundamentally disagree with the MDC letter,” Howard Rifkin, corporation counsel for the city, said in an emailed statement. “Half of what the MDC claims we owe is for cleaning up catch basins in their own sewer system, not city property.”

In its letter, the MDC specifically asked the city of Hartford to review five accounts with large outstanding balances, including one that totals more than $385,000. 

Both the MDC and the city said that charge was related to an ongoing dispute over who is responsible for cleaning catch basins in the city. 

Stone, at the MDC, said the dispute dates back to the time of Hartford’s old landfill on the I-91 corridor, which he said the agency used as a disposal site for catch basin waste. 

“Now that landfill is closed. We incur a cost now, that we didn’t incur before, for the disposal of that material,” Stone said.

Two other overdue accounts connected to the city of Hartford include balances higher than $40,000. The letter also calls attention to an account with a $27,000 overdue balance and one with a nearly $18,000 overdue balance.

“Some of the rest is attributable to prior owners of properties the City recently acquired, properties the city does not own, or charges we do not believe to be legitimate,” Rifkin wrote.

The MDC said the city of Hartford needs to identify and notify the District of properties where services can be cut off and provide the District a process to notify it of “any properties obtained by the City from tax foreclosures.”

“These outstanding balances are due to a variety of circumstances and we are seeking your assistance in focusing your staff to work with ours to resolve them,” the MDC wrote to Bronin.

Meanwhile, when one customer, large or small, fails to pay a bill, the burden to close that money gap can fall on ratepayers.

“We get that,” Stone said. “We do not want to, and strive not to, pass on delinquencies of one or more ratepayers onto those ratepayers that do pay.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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