Following up on discussion from an informational community meeting held January 10, the Fountain City Council considered two utility related changes at its Wednesday, February 7 meeting. The city is planning utility rate increases and changes to usage minimums for sewer and water. City Clerk Ronda Flattum suggested consideration for the handling of past due notices and multi-unit metering.
Currently, the city late fee for delinquent balances is listed as 10% with additional disconnect and reconnect charges of $25 each instance due to delinquency. Comparative data from other municipalities was presented, but it’s unclear how the council wants to proceed.
“The people who are past due, are always the ones past due. When they get late fees, it gets harder and harder to catch up,” said Flattum. “It’s hard to get out of the hole. I think a change would be for the betterment of the city and residents.” The council may consider implementing new policy that would give two weeks’ notice for past due bills to be paid prior to disconnection.
Multi-unit metering may also better assist residents. Whether or not a rental unit is individually metered and how tenants’ utility costs are paid is up to the property owner, who is ultimately responsible for all unpaid utility. “We can’t mandate that,” noted Mayor Richard Kujath. When individual metering is requested, the city pays the cost of meters while the property owner must pay all costs related to installation.
Ron Junge, property owner of an eight-unit apartment complex on Spruce Street has requested the city provide nine meters to his property. “I’d just assume that with the rate increases coming that they [tenants] pay it,” said Junge, who also stated he intends to change his lease agreements to define tenant responsibility for utilities. “I prefer that notice is given right away if past due,” he added.
Clerk Flattum indicated a vertical E-meter devices could be ordered at an estimated $300 per meter. Billing for multi-unit metering would go directly to tenants from the city, as well as a copy for each unit for the property owner. Approval was given for the ordering of the meters.
Discussion will continue on past due fees. It’s likely no final changes for utility policies and the increase will not be approved until April and implemented in May.
In other news, the city wastewater treatment plan was again compliant in the months of December and January. This is a welcome indication that long-time woes at the plant may be a thing of the past, especially during occasionally difficult to manage winter months. Rick Whitney, of PeopleService, was on hand at the meeting with updates and requests.
City Engineer WSB & Associates is coordinating with Whitney for chemical submittal notice to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) for changes to product at the plant. With the new chemical, Whitney has suggested the city consider the option of bulk purchasing, which could save the city upwards of $6,500 a year. This would require the installation of either five, 1,000 gallon tanks or one large tank unit. Each presents its own challenges and costs, but it’s estimated that either option could pay for itself within a year and a half.
Option one, utilizing multiple tanks, will help disperse the weight load. Engineers are checking on requirements, but installation of an eight-inch concrete slab is likely. This is estimated to cost roughly $4,000 according to Whitney. Option two, however, is slightly less costly at $2,000-2,500 for the tank and an additional minimum of $1,000 for the support structures. No formal decision on the tanks was made at the meeting.
Lastly, a rough draft of an agreement between the city and Valley Design is currently being reviewed by WSB & Associates. The agreement relates to permitting from the MPCA. Following review, the document will go to the City Attorney for review and then to the council for final approval. Whitney suggested once the agreement is completed the city look into its ordinances. “We need to make sure we have some teeth to hold the line,” noted Whitney.
The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Wednesday, March 7, at 7:30 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend.