MURRAY CITY — The decision to allow folks an extension if they need it on their water bill passed Thursday night during a special meeting for water issues in the Village of Murray City.
A community forum was held Monday instead of the scheduled council meeting due to the lack of a quorum, with only three council members present. However, many residents showed up to voice their opinion about the recent change in their water bills.
The previous water meter reader, Jake Sherritt, quit on Feb. 24. Therefore, Ron Cook, Village Administrator, and Craig Cook read the meters for the month of February. Sherritt wasn’t reading the meters correctly and some residents saw an increase of roughly $30 to $50 or more in their bills.
By the end of the forum, councilwoman Wendy Mitchell called a special meeting for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the water issue further since on the 10th of the month residents would be charged a late fee if they didn’t pay their bills.
Thursday’s special meeting began with the discussion of how many households in the Village were tremendously high compared to normal and who had negative readings.
The minimum payment for the use of 2,000 gallons for each month per household is roughly $40. The Village charges $0.65 cents as a tax, but gives $0.42 cents to Burr Oak, keeping the difference of $0.23 for the water fund.
There were roughly 20 bills at or over $100 on Brick Hill, and several $70 to $80 bills for customers. Approximately 12 households had a negative reading; meaning Sherritt estimated the number higher than what Cook had manually read just this month. For example, if Sherritt estimated 2,100 gallons of water, Cook had an accurate reading of 1,300 gallons.
Before Sherritt quit he didn’t read the meters, which put Cook in a pinch to get them done before the end of the month. Therefore, five extra days were given to the Village to get them all read and bills out on time. On top of that, the bills went up three percent because of a yearly increase.
Councilwoman Charmia Berwanger said, “Why should they pay because Jake messed up?”
Mayor Mike Dupler responded, “They used the water.”
Cook held up a stack of papers and said, “These are all your high bills that Sabrina’s got laid out and all of Brick Hill was high. Evidently, he never went up the hill.”
Sabrina Bishop, the village water clerk replied, “Every house on German Alley was high, over $100, every one of those houses. I mean, I get that it went through the meter, but I don’t agree with them having to pay it all because it’s not their fault — Jake never went up the hill.”
Bishop mentioned she had always questioned Sherritt’s readings and had him redo them, but there’s no guarantee he followed through with his word. However, when Cook went to read the meters in the Village he had to dig for them since many had been covered over with grass and mud from not being read for so long.
Berwanger questioned if the negative readings compared to the overage if it would even out.
“If you’re going to do it one way, you’ve got to do it the other way,” she said.
Councilman Dennis Wolfe suggested giving the households who were really high, a payment plan for three months, but he didn’t know how to fix the bills with negative readings.
Then Wolfe had an idea, stating the minimum payment is roughly $40 and there were 12 negative readings, costing a total of $480.
“We can eat $480, and wipe their bills off for the month,” Wolfe remarked.
Bishop mentioned she was frustrated with the situation and had always questioned the meter readings and bills.
“Was it brought up in council?” Mayor Mike Dupler questioned.
“I’ve never brought it up in council,” responded Bishop.
“That’s what I’m meaning right there, it should have been brought up then in here,” remarked Dupler. “I’m not blaming her (Bishop), I’m saying it should have been brought up in here.”
Cook chimed in and said he’s complained in council meetings about the readings “from the word go” and nothing was done when he talked to Sherritt about the readings.
“You could have done something, you could have fired him,” mentioned Dupler.
“You can’t just fire people, you have to do it by the procedure,” Cook shot back to Dupler.
The Mayor agreed with Cook, but added they were there to discuss the water bills, not the past issues they’ve had with Sherritt.
Two of the councilwomen felt it was right for the citizens to pay their full bills the way it came to them since Cook had manually read all of them correctly and they used the water.
Stacy Keeton, a village resident, spoke up and said she shouldn’t have to pay for Sherritt’s mistakes he made during the time he was in the position.
Cook responded to everyone saying he’s sorry he did his job right and caused the issue, but according to the Mayor, he doesn’t do his job right.
“I’ve lived here all my life and I don’t want to screw the people in town — you won’t find anyone that works as hard as I do for this village,” replied Cook.
Resident Robert Pancake and Cook left the room out of frustration to take a breather. While heading out, Cook said, “Do whatever you want with them (the bills), because it isn’t right what you’re doing either way.”
“Whatever you decide to do this time, this is setting the precedence so next time there’s a mess with the water bills they’re going to come back and say, hey look, what you did this time, that’s what I want done for mine,” Peggy McDonald, a village resident noted.
The statement for the Village’s water bill for February is $4,458.85 to Burr Oak with a 10 percent late fee adding up to $405.35.
“It is as much our fault as it is Jake’s,” clarified Wolfe before he made a motion.
Wolfe held up the high bills in his hand, “Charge them the minimum for 2,000 gallons. I’m not saying the water did not go through the meter, the water did go through the meter, but charge them the $0.42 cents for what they go over. If they still have a problem paying the bill, give them three months to pay it.”
The vote passed 6 – 1 and residents should be receiving a hand-written bill from Bishop explaining the corrections and payment option.
Wolfe then made a motion to allow a write-off of one month’s pay for those whose bill read negative. When it came time to vote, it failed, 4 – 3.