In Houston, city finance officials reported this week that there is $80 million in "potentially collectable" overdue water and sewer bills. 

The Public Works Department is seeking $11 million in bills that are on average a little less than eight months delinquent. That figure is what the city will more aggressively pursue from customers who actually can have their water shut off because they are delinquent enough and still have an active account.

Houton Mayor Annise Parker said Thursday that the city will reduce the time it waits before cutting off water to local residents and business owners who do not pay their bills.

Legally, the city can shut off water when a bill is 52 days delinquent. Parker said how soon the city turns off the water depends, in part, on how soon it can dispatch someone to the property, but the Houston Chronicle reported she issued this ultimatum at a news conference: "If you get to 90 days, you have no water. Period."

The city currently shuts off water to an estimated 200 properties a day. After hiring and training 20 new workers in the department, the number is expected to rise to 600 a day.

The Public Works Department's collection rate on an estimated $1 billion in annual water and sewer bills is nearly 99%, but the renewed enforcement is a response to a spike in delinquencies in 2011 that department officials could not explain.

The city announced a crackdown in early 2011 on individuals who collectively owed the city $900 million in parking tickets, library fines, false burglar alarm penalties, unpaid ambulance rides and other bills. By early this year, finance officials announced they were unlikely to collect much more than $200 million because much of the debt is older than two years, the window in which the city collects 98% of its debt.

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