Attleboro, Mass. threatens blind woman over 1-cent water bill

Eileen Wilbur, a 74 year-old blind woman living by herself, recently got a nasty shock when her daughter was helping her go through her mail. Apparently, Ms. Wilbur had failed to pay part of a water bill from the preceding year, and the city was now threatening her with a lien against her home. The bill, which Attleboro officials noted was among 2,000 that went out, was for one cent.

The letter went on to inform Ms. Wilbur that, unless she paid by December 10, she could face a $48 penalty, in addition to court proceedings. As her daughter, Rose Brederson, noted, Ms. Wilbur has lived in the house for almost 50 years and would most certainly pay the penny. However, given that the bill cost 42 cents to mail, one wonders how the City of Attleboro hopes to make its money back. What's more, while Ms. Wilbur is undoubtedly an outlier, it's reasonable to ask how many of the 2,000 bills, which cost $840 to mail, were worth less than the price of postage.

When confronted with this situation, City Collector Debra Marcoccio responded by pointing out that Attleboro's billing is completely automated, and is not audited by human beings. She went on to defensively ask why Ms. Wilbur didn't pay the one cent the year before, when it was first due. Like anyone else who's ever been through this sort of mess, I have a pretty good idea about what happened: the 1¢ bill is either unannounced interest on the water bill, or represents fractions of pennies that have accrued on Ms. Wilbur's account, which the billing software decided to add to her latest bill. Regardless, this is the sort of thing that any human being (or even a bureaucrat) with a fully-functioning cerebral cortex could probably have handled with a minimum of fuss.

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