A year of aggressive collection efforts has funneled more than $1.7 million in previously unpaid debts into York City coffers, the city's business administrator reported last week.

That's cash the city, most likely, would not have otherwise seen without an incentive program adopted last April.

About that time, business administrator Michael O'Rourke estimated that years of unpaid sewer and trash bills had amounted to as much as $18 million owed to the city.

Previous attempts to collect were ongoing but not entirely effective, O'Rourke said.

"The problem was that folks discovered that there was only so much that was going to be done," he told the York City Council on Tuesday.

So, the city added a new weapon to its arsenal.

In April of 2012, the city offered delinquent account holders the chance to set up payment plans. As an incentive, the city offered to waive all interest owed. But that offer was available for just 30 days.

Those who didn't take advantage risked losing water service. With the cooperation of the York Water Co., the city began sending notices to delinquent property owners, giving them as little as 10 days to comply or lose water.

By and large, it seems to be working.

Payment plans: O'Rourke reported to the council Tuesday that nearly 1,300 account holders set up payment plans last year. That's in addition to 67 account holders who paid the full amount owed in one lump sum.

The goal, O'Rourke said, has been to establish payment plans the account holders can afford. In some cases, that means a 50-year timeline, what O'Rourke called "the half-century plan."

"We don't want to set up payment plans that are going to force people to fail," he said.

Of those 1,300 accounts with payment plans, about 29 percent have defaulted so far, O'Rourke said. That means those account holders are no longer entitled to the waiver of interest and penalties.

Since the program's start, the city has posted water-termination warnings on 1,591 properties. Of those, 132 have had the water shut off. And, of those 132, 49 have had water service restored after setting up payment plans, O'Rourke said.

The threat of water termination has made all the difference, O'Rourke said.

"It has had a great influence on people paying," he said.

- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.