Town officials mull water, sewer policy
Published 6:22 pm Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Miriam Fauth of Columbia said she forgot to pay the water bill for her residence.
Her 15-year-old daughter learned the consequence of that oversight on March 10 when she opened the faucet and no water came out.
Fauth immediately her account up to date, and service was restored promptly.
“I am very concerned with the manner we have been dealt with,” she wrote to Mayor Michael Griffin the same day. After being prompt with payments for 15 years, “I would have expected a courtesy notice of at least 24 hours for a reminder.” she wrote, suggesting a “door hanger” notification.
On March 14, in an email to the board of aldermen, Fauth suggested “a courtesy notice of at least 48 hours is given, for example, a phone call or a letter left at the customer’s door, before water is cut off.
She also requested “refund of the $15 [cut-on] fee, and an apology.”
She requested time to address the board and was placed on the April 4 agenda, at which time she repeated her complaints.
Mayor Griffin explained that the town operates water and sewer services as “enterprises,” or town-owned businesses, and “state law won’t allow special considerations.”
Town manager Rhett White recalled that the town of Belhaven once let its utilities accounts get into arrears. The elected officials adopted a scheme to allow low-income householders to make installment payments on delinquent bills, but state authorities overruled the plan. County or town water/sewer systems cannot run charge accounts.
“We cannot make exceptions,” Griffin told Fauth.
White also distributed Columbia’s 10-point water/sewer billing process:
1. Water meters are read on the 15th of each month, give or take a day due to weekends or holidays.
2. Re-reads as the results of high/low readings follow.
3. Water bills are processed and mailed on the 21st of each month.
4. Water bills are due by noon of the 15th of each month.
5. If not paid by noon of the 15th, a late payment penalty is added and the bill is past due.
6. The subsequent month’s water bill is mailed on the 21st (+/-).
7. The customer has until noon on the 10th of the following month to pay the past due bill (11th or 12th if the 10th is on a weekend or holiday).
8. If the past due water bill is not paid by noon on the 10th, water service will be cut off until payment is made on all amounts due, plus $15 cut-on fee.
9. Employees knock on doors of residents that are home and notify businesses when doing cut-offs to alert customers.
10. There are typically 18-25 customers on the monthly cut off list. Eighty percent of those on the cut-off list are on the list on a regular basis.
The aldermen did not change the process, and they did not direct the town manager to warn customers by phone, door hanger, letter or other means that water service cut-off is imminent.