Unpaid bills are creating big debts in Martinsville.
Homeowners and businesses owe hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now city leaders want to enforce penalties on all these delinquent accounts.
More than $660,000 is past due to the City of Martinsville.
The amount increased by the thousands for five years.
"That would pay for a firetruck," said Martinsville City Councilman Mark Stroud. "We have cut personnel, in my opinion, almost to the point of inefficiency. Everybody's doing extra work or more work then they were doing five years ago."
City leaders discovered the debt while planning next year's budget and looking at debt trends.
More than $450,000 in utility bills and $210,000 in business licenses are uncollected.
The city manager says every city department has unpaid bills from homeowners or businesses.
"Who is to blame the people not paying their bills or the billing department?" asked WDBJ7's Justin Ward.
"I'm certainly not going to blame our billing department because again we do a good job and the effort is there. Any operation where you bill there's always going to be the element of unpaid bills that come into that picture," said Leon Towarnicki, Martinsville's Interim City Manger.
Getting that money is difficult.
Most of the delinquent payers are large businesses that have shut down, left no forwarding address, or are bankrupt but still have electricity running to their building.
Others are homeowners who can't afford the payment.
And in some cases the city decides not to turn off electricity for fear of people losing their jobs or more businesses shutting down.
"We're a little tight. Simply because of the dynamics we've been through over the past 15 years and losing 20,000 jobs in our community," Stroud said.
City leaders are now writing a new policy that shortens the time limit on how long a bill can go unpaid but one that is fair to homeowners and businesses.
Danville found itself in the same situation last year.
The city discovered 4,000 people owed a total of more than $3 million in real estate taxes and gave them 30 days to pay before taking over their land.