Mayor Steve Allender might want to consider a second career as a bill collector.
On Thursday, after the mayor released a letter to the media calling out a local property management company for having nearly $100,000 in late water bills, a company representative settled about half of the balance.
"I don't care what it was that made them pay, I am just glad they are starting to pay it back," Allender said.
Countryside Property Management is now working on a payment plan with the city to pay the outstanding balance. The company has 98 rental properties and manages mobile homes in Star Village, Countryside Mobile Home Park on East St. Patrick Street and the Marquette Mobile Home Park at Star Village, as well as a few other properties.
In Allender's letter, which was addressed to city council members, he said the Countryside Property Management Inc. had dissolved its corporation with the state of South Dakota but still had a combined delinquent water bill of $97,679. The oldest unpaid bills date back three to four months, city spokesman Darrell Shoemaker said.
"On the advice of Public Works Director Dale Tech, I've decided we should not turn off water for the 98 users at this point," Allender wrote. The water at the property management office located at Star Village, however, has been cut off, "in an attempt to get their attention," Allender said.
Cynthia Akers is the listed director of Countryside Property Management. She did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The mayor's letter said Countryside Property Management is also the owner of the former Boston's Restaurant & Sports Bar on East Disk Drive, which recently closed. The mayor said that property has a delinquent water bill of $5,000.
"On the surface, this appears to be a failing property management company which has likely collected rent to include water usage from 98 rental customers, then failed to pay the city for this service," Allender said. "The 98 renters are not to blame in this instance, but if we cannot get compliance on this delinquent water bill, it may result in shutting off service to all properties."
In March 2016, the city faced similar dilemma with the owner of the Idlewild Inn apartments in downtown. The landlord, Gerald Henning of Milwaukie, Ore., failed to pay $6,850 in outstanding water bills dating back to December 2015. The water was shut off, but Allender reversed the decision five days later after he became concerned with the living conditions of the residents.
Earlier this year, Henning was sent to collections for unpaid water and sewer bills in the amount of $3,556, Shoemaker said.
"The Idlewild property was sold and is currently managed by Maxworth LLC of Newcastle, Wyo.," he wrote in an email. "There have been no issues with payment for water and sewer since the change in ownership."
Water bills issued by the city sometimes go unpaid and as a result a resident may lose service, but having an outstanding bill this large is rare, Allender said.
Typically, decisions to shut off residential water services are handled by the water department, but in cases like this — where a large number of households are involved — Allender gets a recommendation from the Public Works director before making a final decision.