KSAT Defenders investigation: SAWS reports millions in unpaid bills

SAWS averages about $3 million in uncollected bills

Author: April Molina, Investigative Reporter, amolina@ksat.com
Published On: Oct 30 2012 06:43:22 PM CDT   Updated On: Oct 30 2012 10:00:10 PM CDT
SAWS logo GENERIC
SAN ANTONIO -

San Antonio Water Systems is a multi-million dollar operation, pulling in close to $400 million annually over the last three years.

Despite the revenue, there is a significant sum of money that goes uncollected each year.

"It is common and it is expected that we will have bills that go uncollected," said San Antonio Water Systems Vice President Greg Flores.

The amount of uncollected bills during the last three years was $3.7 million in 2009, $2.4 million in 2010, and $2.8 million in 2011.

"That cost is budgeted every year and it is something that all rate-payers pay for as a cost of doing business," Flores said.

It is not a cost of doing business for SAWS. Rather it is a cost that is essentially passed on to the consumer, Flores said. The people who pay their water bill also essentially end up covering the bills of those who don't.

"I don't think it's fair I have to pay for the other people that don't pay," said customer Tino Corrales.

"I think they ought to be able to absorb some of that and not put it on the other people that are paying the bills on time," said customer Cindy Zuniga.

But Flores explained it is not a cost that can be absorbed by SAWS. He said the company has to cover every cost, according to state law and city ordinance.

Ratepayer Oscar Green said if SAWS can't take on the cost, they should ramp up their collections efforts.

"I don't think they're trying," Green said. "Somebody's not doing their job."

Flores said SAWS has a special team for the sole purpose of collections, in addition to two outside collections agencies, and they continually strategize ways to catch people at home.

"For example, on Super Bowl Sunday, when we know people are home watching TV, we'll make calls and try to collect on some of those bills that are overdue," Flores said.

Despite collection efforts, a 7.9 percent rate increase was approved last year, though Flores said it will go toward repair and maintenance of the sewer system, not toward unpaid bills.

Next year SAWS, plans to request another rate hike -- this one to cover the cost of a new de-salination plant.