AZTEC — City commissioners approved a plan to write-off more than $100,000 in unpaid utility bills Tuesday.

"I wonder about the amount, being so high," Mayor Pro-tem Jim Crowley said.

The total amount is uncollected money for various utilities — water, electric, sewer, trash — and miscellaneous charges.

A glitch during a conversion of the Finance Department's software three years ago meant that some bills were carried over without all the necessary information intact.

"Unfortunately, the end billing dates for accounts from the last two or three years were lost in the process, which required us to go through each account, one by one," said Kathy Lamb, the city's financial director. "It took some months — an hour here, an hour there — but at least now we're current."

Lamb said her department collects data on all billing from the city and uses the information to make projections on its uncollectible accounts.

A list of 353 utility accounts represents final bills that are four years old, unpaid often because of bankruptcy or death of the debtor.

A New Mexico state statute for small cities makes writing off accounts from the city's ledgers a possibility, with the commission's approval.

This fiscal year, annual utility revenues are estimated at more than $10 million. The adopted budget includes $85,000 as a projected write-off expense, which is less than one percent of total billing, Lamb said.


Currently, the city has roughly 3,300 active accounts, of which 350 are for businesses. Aztec is one of five municipalities in the state that owns its own electric company said Delain George, who works in the Utilities Department.

"We are small, but we can respond sooner than larger communities," George said. "Our rates are higher in the Four Corners area, but we're comparable to a lot of cities."

George said the city began a utility assistance program in 2002 to help customers experiencing trouble with personal finances.

"Besides offering incremental payment arrangements, the program is there to provide up to $250 per year," George said. "We realize people continue to struggle in these tough economic times."

In 2012, the city sent 210 accounts to a collection agency after bills, often containing multiple months' charges, went unpaid. This year, to date, 96 accounts have been sent to collections.

"When people call, we do our best to work with them," George said. "But only 10 or so people will contact us to apply for assistance."