The Three Rivers City Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to schedule a public hearing and first reading of a proposed city ordinance amendment that would give citizens more time to pay their water bills before late fee penalties are applied.
City administration was asked to review the current utility billing process to determine if customers could be given 30 days to pay their bill before a penalty is applied for non-payment. According to Cathy Lawson, director of the finance department, the city currently bills on the first of the month with a normal due date on the 15th of month, or the next business day if that falls on a weekend.
“If that bill is unpaid on the 16th of the month, currently we apply a 10 percent penalty,” Lawson said. “If that bill still remains unpaid on the last business day of the month, we send out a shutoff notice which indicates that we are going to shut you off, and you have until the 15th of the following month. Technically, from the time that the original bill is created for the cycle on the first of the month, if you don’t pay you really have six weeks till the 15th of the following month before you’re in jeopardy of a disconnection.”
At-Large City Commissioner Lucas Allen spoke in favor of amending the current city ordinance in order to adopt a new timeline for nonpayment penalties, a proposed change he and Third District Commissioner Chris Abel spearheaded. Allen called the proposal a “universal plus for every citizen” and vowed to vote for the change, saying he hoped the rest of the commission would do the same as a sign of support for residents. Fourth District Commissioner Carolyn McNary echoed Allen’s enthusiasm, adding she hopes the adjustment to the billing cycle works, and that members of the community get excited about the prospect of change.
Mayor Tom Lowry waited for the duration of a lengthy discussion between his fellow commissioners before offering his own perspective. Lowry also spoke in favor of the amendment, acknowledging the city does not generate enough money from penalties for it to negatively impact the budget. He also acknowledged a common complaint among Three Rivers citizens: rusty water. “If you’re in a neighborhood that has colored water or bad water all the time, please let us know because we will put it in the year’s budget to fix those as we can. If you don’t complain we don’t know it sometimes.”
A public hearing is set for the commission’s next meeting on February 7 to discuss the proposed ordinance amendment.
Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.