Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pay up or go dry in Bellevue

City could soon disconnect water service to past-due accounts


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Bellevue undertook construction of a $6 million sewer plant several years ago when the city was booming. Now that the facility is about to go into operation, city officials wonder if there will be enough money to pay for it.

Last year, the city spent $150,000 less than it budgeted, but will soon have to start repaying a bond for the new facility.

Auditor Diane Linard told the City Council on Thursday to write off about $35,000 in past-due bills that would have helped pay for the new facility. Those bills will go to collection.

Bellevue charges $84 per month for water and sewer services to any lot in the city for which those services are available. Linard said Bellevue was unusual in that the city continues to charge people even though they no longer have service.

"Some of the bills have not been paid in years," she said. "Utilities are meant to be operated like a business."

City attorney Rick Allington said "the biggest hammer is turning off people's water. You need to start thinking about what kind of deals you want to make with people."

The city has a water service cutoff policy that is difficult to enforce because most water lines cannot be reached from April to October. Most lines cut off during summer must be reconnected by the fall freeze or the pipes will freeze and break, causing the city yet another expense.

The city charges $40 to turn off and then turn back on a water line.

Now that the spring thaw is coming, the council is considering allowing delinquent payers to come up with a percentage of their past-due bills to avoid disconnection. The council discussed a possible 50 percent payment now, and payment of the remaining balance by October before the ground freezes.

The council is also considering bringing property tax liens to delinquent accounts to recoup unpaid bills when a property is sold.

City Administrator Tom Blanchard advised the council not to recharge a $2,800 capitalization fee to those lots that have been disconnected due to nonpayment, even though the property may have changed hands sine the disconnection.

"The capitalization fee goes with the lot," Planning Director Craig Eckles said.

The council discussed charging a base rate of about $30 for city lots that have no services. The council will take up the discussion again on Thursday, March 25.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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