Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bellevue’s unforgiven

Past-due bills remain on books


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

The Bellevue City Council voted unanimously Thursday to deny two requests from Bellevue ratepayers to forgive their past-due water and sewer bills, saying the city needed to collect payments to pay for the city's water and wastewater treatment systems.

Larry Dixon, who the city clerk's office said owed $622 in past dues as of January, wrote a letter to the council in November saying he wanted out of the $85-per-month bill that he has been paying for a building at 521 N. Seventh Ave.

The building has been under construction for three years without water and sewer services, but Dixon began paying for services when he was granted a building permit to begin construction.

"The water service at said property has been shut for almost three years. I simply cannot afford to pay utilities on an uninhabitable building," Dixon wrote.

Dixon supplied the city with his earnings as a plumber from last year as evidence of his inability to pay the bills, but his efforts were to no avail.

"It's tough out there, but as a council we need to be consistent and deny this request," council Chair Dave Hattula said.

Gary Carr also appealed to the city for relief from water and sewer bills. In 2005 he purchased 16 apartments and a restaurant property at 108 N. Main St., formerly housing Chester and Jake's.

Car wrote in a letter to City Hall in October that between 2005 and 2010 his water and sewer bill rose from $500 per month to $840 per month. Carr appealed to the city to install a water meter in 2010, at a cost to him of $362, on his property and pay only for measured use.

Bellevue ratepayers are charged a flat rate of $92.40 per month as of Oct. 1 for water and sewer usage.

"I have questioned the building's water/sewer bills from day one on how expensive it was!" Carr wrote.

He said he owned a similar building, housing The Hitchrack in Hailey, and never paid more than $225 per month in that city. He said he ran into trouble with his bills in Bellevue as a result of the recession.

According to city records, Carr's unpaid balance rose to $8,402 in April 2010 and now amounts to $2,967.

When threatened with water shutoff notices for past dues, Carr said he continued paying his past-due bills along with 21 percent interest and penalties. He said that after he requested and was given a water meter, such as one used by 20 other businesses in the city, his bills were reduced to $213 per month, about 25 percent of the original charges.

The City Council voted unanimously to require full payment of Carr's past dues, including $685 in interest charges from September through April 2010.

"If you join the gym and decide not to go, you can't get your money back," said Councilwoman Sara Burns.

City Clerk Dee Barton said in an interview that Carr was originally billed according to an "equivalency evaluation," which bases rates on the number of seats in a restaurant, and other criteria, rather than actual water use.

There are a growing number of residences in the city with water meters, but they will not be charged according to actual use until all homes in the city are connected to meters, which Barton said could be "several years away."

In other Bellevue News:

( The Sun Valley Police Department donated a used set of patrol car lights and radar speed-checking system to the Bellevue Marshal's Office.

( The City Council established a park use fee ordinance. Park fees range from $30 to $300 depending upon the amount of people involved in an event and which park amenities are used.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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