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“Clearly the council wants one (a moratorium),” said City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer Thursday. “We’re looking at it.” He said one question is whether the council has the right to impose the moratorium because the sewage collection system and two wastewater treatment plants are managed by the Water Pollution Control Authority. Seventeen of 20 council members voted at Wednesday night’s emergency meeting to require Meyer’s office put a 180 day hold on its use of foreclosures as a last resort to collect delinquent sewer bills. The foreclosure process is triggered after sewer users have fallen at least $2,000 behind and ignored a handful of written warnings. There are around 170 sewer accounts out of over 29,000 somewhere in the foreclosure process. Forty six of those foreclosures involve single-family homes and the balance are multifamily, commercial/industrial and investor owned properties. Councilwoman Eneida Martinez, who as a co-chairman of the ordinance committee has been leading an effort to reform what critics say is a too aggressive, too punitive sewer bill collection process, emphasized that residents still must pay their fees. But, she added, the moratorium gives those individuals facing foreclosure more time to try and work out payment plans with the city and the WPCA. Councilwoman Michelle Lyons abstained because of a potential conflict of interest. Lyons’ husband is a marshal who could be involved in delivering legal papers for the private foreclosure attorneys that work with the city. Two others — Maria Zambrano Viggiano and Christina Smith — were absent. The moratorium also puts the City Attorney’s office on notice that the council expects staff to prioritize sewer fee reforms, such as setting up a friendlier mediation process.
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