The city has managed to shrink the outstanding debt owed by residents for sewer bills by more than $250,000 over the past eight months — thanks, in part, to its partnership with Iberville Parish, a city official said.

St. Gabriel entered into an agreement giving the parish authority to shut off water service to customers who refused to pay their outstanding sewer bills, Mayor Lionel Johnson said

“When they cut off the first 50, people started coming in and paying when they saw we were serious,” Johnson said.

Outstanding residential sewer bills have been an ongoing problem for St. Gabriel, which has gotten them into hot water for the past 13 years during the city’s annual financial audit.

It was always a difficult problem to address because the city’s residential water service is a parish-run utility.

St. Gabriel residents are charged a flat fee of $15 a month for sewer service.

The mayor said previously the parish’s control over water service prevented the city from being able to shut down sewer service because both utilities are linked.

The city struggled to get payments on sewer bills dating as far back as the late 1990s and totaling as much as $2,500 for some households.

“I wish I could say it was just low-income folks, but it’s not,” the mayor said.

Revenue the city collects for sewer service is used to pay off more than $3.2 million in loans the city used from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish St. Gabriel’s sewer system.

The city still has $2.8 million left to pay on the 40-year loans, according to city records. If residents don’t pay their sewer bills, Johnson said, he has to take money from the city’s general fund to make loan payments.

The city began the year with 367 delinquent accounts totaling $269,097 dollars, according to city records. As of Aug. 11, that number has been reduced to 28 accounts totaling $17,915.

The mayor said water service to 11 of those households with outstanding sewer bills has been shut off.

Johnson said any resident with a delinquent sewer bill must pay a minimum of 15 percent on their delinquent balance to initiate a payment plan requiring residents to make monthly payments of $45 — $15 of which will cover their current monthly charge and $30 toward their outstanding balance.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter @tjonesreporter.