Officials say a get-tough attitude toward utility customers who don't pay their bills on time is paying off for the city.

In the past five months the Energy Department has slashed the dollar amount it is owed on delinquent accounts by two-thirds, from about $1.57 million to about $523,000.It's hard to say exactly how much has been collected on that overdue total because the city's computer isn't programmed to break out that number, said Ron Hardy, the department's assistant director for administration. He estimates collections of overdue bills have topped $200,000.

The city also has been forced to write off about $600,000 of the overdue amount as uncollectable bad debt.

Provo started cracking down on deliquent power accounts in December, when Energy Department accounts receivable total showed more than $1 million in unpaid bills that were more than 90 days overdue.

The department tightened credit policies, hired two full-time bill collectors, turned some accounts over to collection agencies and began shutting off power to force payment by those customers who refused to make other arrangements.

The department is now owed about $190,000 in unpaid bills more than 90 days overdue, but customers who owe that money have signed promissory notes and made arrangements to pay it off, Hardy said.

"Once people with overdue accounts realize the city's attitude has changed, their attitude tends to change too," Hardy said.

Another $70,000 worth of payments were between 60 and 90 days late at the end of March, while $263,000 was at least 30 days late.

To combat a continuation of the problem, the City Council is considering raising the deposit new power customers must pay from $50 to $75. A $60 reconnection fee for those whose power is cut off for non-payment also may be implemented.

The department also has improved its billing procedure, cutting the lag time between the point when a bill becomes overdue and the time when the city will cut off power to force payment.

A power bill unpaid 45 days after the due date will trigger the mailing of a disconnect notice to the customer, who then has about a week to pay before power is disconnected.