The North Bend Eagle


 

Council raises water deposit, won't charge landlords for renters' debts

by Nathan Arneal
Published 6/26/13

The North Bend City Council had another go around on unpaid water and sewer bills at its June 18 meeting.

At its previous meeting on June 4, the council discussed making landlords responsible for unpaid water and sewer bills left behind by former renters. Now the council has backed off that idea, instead choosing to raise the deposit on new utility accounts and be more strict on enforcing ordinances currently on the books, including shutting off the water of delinquent accounts.

Since the council’s last meeting, public reaction to the idea of giving landlords responsibility for renters’ unpaid bills was overwhelmingly negative.

Gary and Sally Sims, who own rental properties in town, attended the meeting to express their disagreement with the idea. Sally said that landlords should be responsible for having curb stops in working order, but the owner’s financial obligations should end there. Curb stops allow water access to be shut off to an individual house.

“If they’re going to shut the water off and your water valve thing doesn’t work, then replace it and the landlord pays for that replacement, which I think is fair because you are responsible for that,” Sally Sims said. “But I am not responsible for that person’s money and your bill. You’re not sticking me with that bill.”

Brad Martindale, another rental property owner, submitted a letter to the council expressing an opinion similar to the Sims’. He suggested raising the deposit to help cover the city’s loss on deadbeat renters.

“My suggestion is to look at the codes currently in place, enforce them to the fullest no matter who is in violation and reassess the situation at a later date,” Martindale wrote.

The city last raised the water and sewer deposit in 2001, when the fee was moved from $50 to $100. Only renters, not homeowners, are required to put a deposit on new water and sewer accounts.

“We were hassled a lot when we raised it from $50 to $100 because landlords complained that it would keep people from wanting to live here because our deposits are too high,” city clerk Theresa Busse said. “Times have changed. Six, eight years ago everybody thought $100 was too high. Now those same landlords are all saying, ‘Double the deposit. Do whatever you have to. I don’t want to be responsible for that bill.’”

Water and sewer bills are sent out at the end of each month. Payments not made by the 10th of the month are considered delinquent and assessed a $10 late fee. On the 15th of the month, delinquent notices are sent out to people that still haven’t paid. Once the notices are sent out, residents have seven working days to pay their bill or have their water shut off. Residents can pay $15 to get a 10-day extension to their shut-off date.

Busse said about 70 households are late with payments each month, and about 90 percent of those are late every month.

When the residents reach that shut-off date, the water is not always shut off. Some curb stops are inoperable or in an unknown location. Some people make partial payments to avoid shut-off but never catch up. Some people have even threatened violence against anyone who tries to turn their curb stop off.

Councilman Kevin Ferguson said the city has to be more consistent in fixing broken curb stops and assessing the cost to the homeowner. Councilman Tim Blackmon agreed.

“That shut off is our leverage,” Blackmon said. “If we’re waiting for somebody else to give us our leverage, that’s not a good place to be.”

All council members agreed that the city has to be more firm with its water shut-off dates when accounts are delinquent. If there is a possible threat the person shutting the water off, a sheriff deputy will accompany the city worker.

“They’ll find the money,” Blackmon said. “They need water. Obviously the (late fines) don’t bother them, but when you walk in your house and you can’t flush your toilet, that’s a whole different deal then.”

A typical residential water and sewer bill in North Bend is about $50 a month, but some range higher than that. By the time the shut-off date is reached, most residents are two months behind on their payments. Often the $100 deposit isn’t large enough to cover bills of renters who have left town.

The council debated on raising the deposit to $200 but eventually settled on $150. An ordinance putting the new figure into effect will be drawn up for consideration at future meetings.

In other business, the council made its annual appointments to its board of health consisting of mayor Jeff Kluthe, council president Kevin Ferguson, sheriff Steve Hespen and Larry Kisby, PA.

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