Since a third-party vendor took over billing for sewer service in January, thousands of Chattanoogans have stopped paying their bills.

As a result, the city is running a nearly $2 million shortfall in its sewer account, Chief Operating Officer Andrew Kean told the City Council on Tuesday. He also said Mayor Andy Berke's staff is working with Tennessee American Water to start shutting off residents' water if they don't make good on their sewer bills.

But council members balked at any changes for residents until the city can address mounting complaints customers have with ENCO Utility Services and how it collects payments.

The problem isn't with the vendor but with the lack of consequences, Kean said. If the city brings back that consequence, residents will start to pay again, he said. Further, Kean said, the city is considering allowing ENCO to handle customer service for residents whose water is turned off.

Read more from our news partners at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.