November 27, 2014

Standish changing water and sewer billing policy

By Kevin Bunch
Staff Writer | news@arenacindependent.com
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STANDISH — As the city of Standish prepares to shift to a monthly billing cycle, the city council has adopted a new water and sewer billing policy.

The policy changes are being implemented to give city officials routines for specific situations, such as filling pools, final bills, and renters using the water system.

“With all the different things happening regarding water and sewer meter reads, we wanted a policy on how to deal with bills,” City Manager Curt Hillman said. “Monthly reads are not going to have the same flexibility we have now, so we have to come up with a definitive way to keep up.”

On swimming pools and sprinkler systems, the council debated doing reads before and after their usage to go for accuracy, or to simply include the water usage in the monthly water/sewer bill as a whole. The council ultimately agreed to a suggestion by Councilman Jerry Nelson that consumers be allowed to purchase a second, separate meter to run a sprinkler or fill a pool.

The second meter would only be read for its water usage, and while the consumer would have to pay the entire cost of the meter’s installation, it would mean a reduced bill for heavy use.

If someone does not want the added installation expense, they could stick with one meter and pay the additional sewer charge, Nelson said.

Councilman Doug Ireland added the Standish Area Fire Authority could come in to fill a pool as well, and usually tacks on a bill for their time and water usage after the work is complete.

Since the city is also moving toward a radio signal-based meter reading system, which Hillman said would speed up the meter reading process significantly, anyone getting a second meter to fill a pool would be responsible for the additional cost of adding the new meter head. The city would only be responsible for the first meter, Hillman said.

Hillman said the property owner would also be responsible for making the meter accessible for the installation of the new meter heads. He added the city is moving forward on purchasing the new meter heads on an installment plan.

The council also agreed that property renters should pay a deposit for water service based on the formula used in West Branch: 4,000 gallons per person per household at the current water and sewer rates — $6.55 for water and $3.25 for sewer per 1,000 gallons — with the ready-to-serve fees and rubbish collection included, as well as any potential penalty fees, for the equivalent of three months of billing.

Nelson said West Branch uses a six-month formula, which is much harsher. He expected the deposit would come out to around $250 for a family of four.

According to Clerk/Treasurer Peggy Burtch, since the property owner is responsible for the bill and could face renters moving in and out, it is important to not put too huge a deposit out there that would discourage people from renting in the city.

Under the new policy, new property owners would also need to do their homework to avoid being stuck unexpectedly with an unpaid water bill.

“If the bill is unpaid and the water is shut off, and the person moves out, the new owner would be stuck with the bill,” Nelson said. “They have to do their due diligence.”

Water would not be restored to those delinquent properties until the bills are paid, whether by the original owner or the new one.

The council also approved a policy to deal with insufficient funds and returned checks. Under the policy, people who write checks with insufficient funds for utility bills would be assessed a $35 fee, and the city staff would make one attempt to collect the funding from the bank. Utilities would be turned off until such time that the bill is paid.

“We haven’t had major problems with this,” Hillman said.

Burtch said the city gets between six and eight cases of insufficient funds a year. Nelson hoped moving to a monthly billing cycle would help reduce that number.

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