Smyrna Town Council unanimously approved Monday night for the town to move forward with a trial robo courtesy call system for delinquent utility customers prior to the shut-off.

Town Manager Dave Hugg told council that each month the town has roughly 1,000 to 1,200 customers who don't pay their utility bill by the due date. Within a few days, Hugg said half those customers pay their bill or set up a payment system; however, that number dwindles down to a few hundred customers who haven't paid by the shut-off date. Staff members have been used to call individuals about the late bills but this is hit or miss.

The town's IT Manager James Markow did some research and suggested the use of a robo courtesy call to inform customers of their delinquent bills. Hugg said the cost would be minimal and could solve the issue of delinquent payments.

The topic was debated by council, as some members questioned whether or not the system required a contract or if a courtesy call would even work.

Councilman Anthony DeFeo asked if the town could do a trial period to see if the program worked.

"I'm concerned about the success as to if it'll get 600 folks alerted to get in here and pay their bill before their service is terminated so we can judge its success," DeFeo said.

Councilman Joanne Masten added that a three-month trial would allow for the town to keep tract of the metrics that will show whether or not the courtesy call is working.

Councilwoman Regina Brown asked if a survey had been done regarding why payments are delinquent but was told this isn't always possible when the town doesn't have current phone numbers for all customers. So Brown asked if the town ever asks for updated phone numbers. Manager of Accounting/Business Services Gary Stulir explained that staff does ask for updated phone numbers, but customers aren't always forthcoming with the information.

Ultimately council approved use of the robo courtesy call but for a trial period to see if it works. Hugg told council he'd get more information on how the program works as far as a contract is concerned.

Bombay Woods HOA concerns addressed

Bombay Woods resident Andrea Beck addressed council regarding the developments inability to have a working homeowners association. Beck explained only 80 houses have paid their dues out of 154 properties, under the 75 percent requirement for Bombay Woods to have an active HOA.

Beck said after talking to residents, she felt one more letter from the town would do the trick. However, the suggestion of another letter to Bombay Woods residents was met with some disagreement from council as letters have already been sent before.

Town lawyer Barrett Edwards told council they have a few choices, to go to the Court of Chancery to get a receiver to take over the HOA or do nothing but enforce the town's code.

After some back and forth on the topic, council unanimously approved a motion to, if necessary, file for a receivership to take over the Bombay Woods HOA.

Committee members needed

Councilman Bob Johnson noted during his Utility Committee report that the committee is in need of one member, and suggested possibly increasing the number of members on the committee from five to six.

"We are down to four members and it's because of issues like scheduling," Johnson said.

Furthermore, since the committee's December meeting was cancelled, Johnson said some issues will be brought to council so the problems don't become stagnant.

On the topic of needing more committee members, Mayor Pat Stombaugh said there are several committees in need of members so if anyone is interested to let council know.

School, police looking into emergency plans

Police Chief Wil Bordley told council during his police report that the school district and police department will be looking into their emergency school plans.

"We do this every year but we're going to go ahead and do it now in light of recent events," Bordley said.

Manager warns of electric scam

Hugg informed council, but geared the message towards residents, of a possible scam involving reduced electric bills.

Hugg said if an individual calls stating they may be able to reduce an electric bill, that the call is a scam. Customers with other groups including Delaware Electric Cooperative have received these phone calls with the offer and then are asked for account information.

"The red flag is when they ask for account information. This is not something we would do," Hugg said.

Therefore, if a resident receives a phone call for this offer, Hugg said to contact the town as well as the State Consumer Protection Hotline (800-220-5424).

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